The Supreme Court battles Apple for password access

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Jade Cohen ’17

If someone were to ask me what possession I could not live without, my immediate response would probably be my iPhone. It rarely crosses my mind, however, that the conversations held within this small silver lifeline could potentially be revealed to those other than the intended recipients.
What would happen, then, if Apple had access to all of the data that its users believe is protected by a personal password? 
The technology colossus, Apple, and the United States Supreme Court are currently at odds on the answer. After discovering several electronic devices involved in the December San Bernardino shooting, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a demand for Apple to extract data such as contacts, photos and iMessages from the iPhone of one of the shooters, according to washingtonpost.com.

Jade Cohen '17
Jade Cohen ’17

This request is wrought with security and privacy implications. If Apple engineers a software to gain access to data previously protected by an airtight password, it would allow this invasion of privacy to occur in the future with greater ease and frequency.
Although federal prosecutors claim the software would only be used for this particular case, the government cannot operate on a circumstantial basis. If this were the case, there would be no limits to human torture in order to extract information critical to the well-being of the country.
From the federal government’s perspective, the information currently hidden in the iPhone will provide insight into the motives and plans surrounding the tragedy. Therefore, the Supreme Court has ordered Apple to disable the feature that clears data from the phone after 10 password attempts in order to give them boundless chances to discover the code, according to washingtonpost.com.
Apple Chief Executive Mr. Tim Cook summarized the underlying issue in an open letter on the company’s website. 
“But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone,” Mr. Cook said.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s insistence, Apple claims it is unable to unlock its newer iPhones because only those who know the password have access. Apple does have the ability, however, to create a software that can override the 10-tries-and-wipe feature, according to washingtonpost.com.
“Once created the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable,” Mr. Cook said, according to washingtonpost.com.
Apple is right in taking a stand against this problematic federal decree because all individuals deserve to have their personal correspondences kept private, even when they may threaten the safety of a larger community. I fully support the government’s precautionary actions to protect the citizens of the United States, but I do not think that breaking into a personal device is a justified approach. 
Although the software could give authority figures the means of curbing terrorist attacks and saving countless lives, it also has the potential to make American citizens feel vulnerable and invaded.
The public appears to be in support of gaining access to Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, according to washingtonpost.com, but people often jump to this conclusion without considering how they would feel if their phones were broken into against their wills, revealing their private information.
The United States government made a similar demand in 1835 when it ordered southern postmasters to destroy abolitionist material in response to southern anger. The government later revoked this decision when it realized that it violated freedom of the press as guaranteed in the Constitution. The Supreme Court should use this as an example for how to approach the situation with Apple 181 years later, by recognizing that their effort to view personal correspondences is overstepping human privacy. This is not something the government should be regulating.
Through their civil disobedience, Apple is not only demonstrating the importance of having an opinion as opposed to passively complying with the government, but Apple is also thinking on a long-term basis and recognizing that this precedent could have intractable consequences regarding individual security.
Apple’s stance on the issue sheds light on the need to limit the federal government’s access to social media and personal technological devices. Although the government’s priority is to protect its citizens against crime and terrorism, encouraging companies such as Apple to invade the privacy of their foreign counterparts would be undermining democratic ideals. 
– Jade Cohen, Opinions Editor