FBI Challenges Apple for Rights to Encryption

On February 29, 2016

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered technology giant Apple to comply with an FBI request to unlock the iPhone of one of the gunmen involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The FBI attempted to unlock the phone themselves, but was unsuccessful due to the security features Apple has installed in the newest versions of the phone’s operating system. The new feature, a form of encryption, encodes information and messages that only allow authorized parties to read the protected content.

Apple has rejected the order by the FBI, CEO Tim Cook saying in an open letter to Apple's customers, “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.”

The security measures that stumped the FBI were released last year through IOS8, an operating system developed by Apple that incorporated new security measures and encryption methods aimed at increasing the security of iPhone users’ data. According to the New York Times, these new security measures were so effective Apple “could no longer comply with government warrants asking for customer information to be extracted from devices."

Apple began developing these new security measures in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s release of National Security Agency information – information that revealed the NSA had the ability to illegally access the data of both iPhone and Android smartphone users.

Apple’s refusal to comply with the FBI order is based on principal; the company strives to never undermine the security features of their own products. Cook claims that what the FBI is asking for would require Apple to build a new version of its operating system without the current security features present, which could potentially take weeks. Cook says Apple’s compliance would establish a dangerous precedent by forcing technology companies to create malware to undermine protective measures built into their own technology.

The FBI has responded to Apple’s complaints by saying the company could install the proposed new software in its headquarters and destroy it once the process has been completed. Students are split in their opinion on the issue, reflecting national polls on the issue.

Keith Henning, a freshman, said Apple “should absolutely unlock the phone,” while junior Tom Moore said, “I think there is a valid privacy concern here, and if this new software was misused or in the wrong hands other people's privacy could be at stake.”


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