George Orwell wrote “1984” as a cautionary tale to show us how post-World War II security measures had the potential to overtake our freedom. Now, in 2016, his fears about privacy look like they are about to be realized.
On Dec. 2, 14 people died and 22 were critically injured at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, victims of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing.
One of the bombers, Syed Rizwan Farook, owned an iPhone 5c. The government asked Apple to unlock the phone, and Apple refused. The issue lay dormant until Feb.16, when, according to Reuters, US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the US District Court of the Central District of California ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock Farook’s iPhone.
Reuters elaborated by saying the FBI’s key demand was to get around the iPhone authentication safeguard, which locks the phone after a certain number of incorrect passcodes have been entered.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, wrote an open letter on Feb.17 to his customers, stating, “The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: building a version of IOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor.”
On Feb. 19, the FBI said that they only want to extract data off a pre-IOS 8 device and not to unlock it. Apple also received an extension from the court on the response to the FBI, making the due date Feb. 26. Later that day, the Justice Department swam into the foray by filing a motion to force Apple to hand over the phone. This is a perfect opportunity to have a true debate on cyber security.
Personally, I believe in privacy; I do not want the government reading my emails or my texts. Many argue that people should be willing to share their information if they have nothing to hide. However, I disagree. I am not plotting an attack on a U.S. landmark, but there are personal conversations and data on my phone – ranging from drama regarding my friend’s roommate to my debit card information – and I do not want anyone to have access to that.
Therefore, I side with Apple, because it is not uncommon for U.S. government organizations to betray the trust of those using smart phones. With the NSA scandal in recent memory, we must be vigilant about our privacy.
On Feb. 21, FBI Director James Comey penned an op-ed for the non-profit organization Lawfare, with the headline “We Could Not Look the Survivors in the Eye if We Did Not Follow this Lead.” In the op-ed he denied wanting to create a backdoor into Apple’s security.
Jumping ahead to Feb. 25, Apple filed a motion to dismiss an iPhone court order. Apple hinged its argument on the fact that the FBI is attempting to greatly expand the use of the All Writs Act. The All Writs Act states, “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” This means that the FBI is trying to expand its power over their own jurisdiction.
I do not know what the courts will decide about the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, but I do hope they do not open a door for the US government to see into our private worlds. Orwell’s “1984” may have been published in 1949, but his idea is very much a current issue. We must be constantly vigilant when it comes to our freedoms of expression and privacy.
When we allow the government access to our private conversations and thoughts, we lose our rights to both expression and privacy.