You Decide: Should Apple Assist the FBI’s Investigation?

Posted by on Feb 24, 2016 in You Decide!
High-angle close-up view four smartphones displayed in a row across the palms of two human hands

McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc./Ashley Zellmer

Last year, btw brought you news of a shooting that took place in San Bernardino by married couple, Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook.  As part of the investigation, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been unsuccessful in unlocking one of the shooter’s iPhones that it collected as evidence. It has asked Apple to assist by disabling particular security features. The technology company has refused, citing privacy issues. We thought we’d bring the question to you for your consideration. So . . . You Decide: Should Apple assist the FBI in its Investigation?


Law enforcement has a history of using legal means to gather information to solve crimes. Encryption technology, while important to safeguard private information, is new and significantly hinders law enforcement operations. These include important charges such as child pornography, drug trafficking and murder. Congresspersons from both parties have already expressed an interest in pursuing legislation regarding encryption.

The decryption tool the government is asking Apple to make is a temporary, very specific, one-time measure. The FBI wants Apple to specifically disable a feature that erases encrypted data after entering a password incorrectly 10 times. It will be destroyed after the San Bernardino shooters investigation is completed.

The action implemented by the FBI is a legal, U.S. federal statue called the All Writs Act of 1789. This allows the Court to “compel” a third party to cooperate with law enforcement on a particular investigation. It has been invoked in recent years in cases of terrorism, usually to gain access to a suspect’s cell phone. In court, Apple has the right to demonstrate that compliance to the Writ would be “unreasonably burdensome.”


Apple has already cooperated with the FBI in the San Bernardino case to the full extent of the law. It provided all information that was in its possession. It answered subpoenas and provided access when presented with search warrants. Engineers from Apple were made available to investigators as advisors.

What the FBI is asking for is that Apple create a new operating system, that does not currently exist. This technology would override a number of security features. It does not exist because Apple believes that–in the wrong hands–this new tool would compromise the personal information of millions of its customers. Once it is created, the FBI cannot guarantee that the tool would not be used in the future.

The request is an example of government overreach and sets a dangerous precedent. Privacy is more important than security in this instance. Demanding that Apple create surveillance software (that doesn’t currently exist) goes against the fundamental freedoms that this country was founded upon. This request is unprecedented and, especially in the wake of 2013’s infringements by the National Security Agency (NSA) , could have disastrous implications on the law.

You decide

Credit: McGraw-Hill Education

Should Apple comply with the government’s request to override its security feature?

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