A battle of epic proportions seems to be brewing between the FBI and Apple, and both seem to be justified in their individual stands. Simply put, the battle is all about security and privacy, and there seems no easy way out in sight as to which can be prioritised over the other.
While the FBI is pushing for the security of average American citizens which they wish to provide to all Americans come what may, at stake is the privacy of the same citizens which the tech companies have vowed to keep off from prying eyes at all costs.
The mega showdown is centered around the recent incident of a terrorist attack at San Bernardino that left 14 dead, including the shooters and prime suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. And it is Farook’s iPhone 5c that has emerged as the focal point of the entire debate.
As things stand right now, the authorities are in possession of Farook’s iPhone 5c but don’t have the passcode needed to have access to all that is stored in it. With Farook already dead, FBI has turned to Apple to devise a method to gain access to the phone which it believes might have vital clues needed to bring the case to its logical conclusion.
However, Apple would have none of it stating they stand for protecting user’s privacy and will do all it takes to remain committed to that, even if that means engaging the country’s law enforcement agencies legally.
The said passcodes are not only essential to unlocking the iPhone but are also vital in the decryption process as the passcodes are also part of the decryption key. However, Apple argued that is a near impossible task as not only have they stopped storing user’s passcodes since 2014 to discourage hacking, current technology do not allow doing that as well.
What this essentially means is that Apple will have to devise new methods to decrypt the iPhone, which includes writing fresh codes just to achieve that.
This, Apple said amounts to the breach of the trust that consumers have pledged to them.
The FBI, on its part, feels the same people advocating privacy could also be the victims of terror attacks, and they need to have special means and methods in place to access even private and confidential data at times to thwart such terrorist attacks in future.
The impending legal tussle is also being keenly watched by other major tech companies like Google and Microsoft since a pro-government ruling could bend the rules of the games once and forever. If the FBI manages to convince Apple to devise special methods of breaking into the iPhone, other tech companies too will have to deal with such requests frequently.
Not that tech companies have never colluded with government agencies before when it comes to matters of national security or criminal acts of exceptional nature though this is the first time things have ended up in the public limelight.
The security vs. privacy debate also assumes importance in view of the ever-evolving technology and encryption methods that have made it easier for criminals to take refuge under and escape the law in the process.
Perhaps what is needed at the moment is to reach a middle ground of sorts where privacy of law abiding citizens are never compromised while the same should not act as a cover for criminals to get along with their criminal activities undetected. Maybe the very concepts of security and privacy need to be redefined all over again taking into account the current crime scenario and how it can affect the citizens at large.
The same technology devised to protect the rights of innocent civilians should not end up acting as a shield for those on the other side of the law. In fact, the security vs. privacy debate does have global ramifications, and the ripples of it will be felt far and wide.