By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor
In 1956, your medical files were locked away in a doctor’s office filing cabinet. Your photographs were stored away in a scrapbook. Your checking account information was safe with the teller. Your record albums were kept under your bed.
In 2016, everything is in your pocket, protected from prying minds only by complex code. But, that might not be the case for long.
The FBI recently ordered – not requested, but ordered – Apple to create a program that would essentially hack into the personal data of any and every iPhone. Apple CEO Tim Cook shot back on Feb. 16 with a letter to its customers, saying that not only does this technology not exist, but it never will if he has any say in the matter.
According to Cook’s letter, the iPhone currently runs an operating system that encodes all private, and potentially dangerous, information, such as stored credit card numbers. That info is so well-protected, Apple doesn’t even have access to it.
Cook believes that what customers have on their phones is “none of [Apple’s] business.” Guess what, FBI? It’s none of your business, either.
The FBI is making its demands for a “master key” version of iOS, Apple’s operating system, so that it may be used to gather encrypted data on an iPhone recovered from the San Bernardino shooting in December. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked an office party in an act of terrorism that killed 14 and wounded 22 others. Apple cooperated with the bureau by surrendering all information within its possession and providing iPhone engineers for assistance.
But forcing a company to develop a program that has the potential to unleash every last bit and byte of the millions of iPhones in the United States is absurd. The government bureau states that this software would only be used once, but there’s no guarantee.
Once the digital antidote has been developed, game over. It only takes one wrong move for that program to fall into the wrong hands. It’s a widely-known secret that China hacks the U.S. government; imagine what it could do with a way to unlock every Apple device in existence. Say hello to more identity theft and financial fraud than ever.
Beyond this scenario having the capability to cause technological mayhem, the United States doesn’t need another way to track our boring, day-to-day lives. The National Security Agency already monitors our phone calls and puts surveillance on our Google searches. According to Frontline as of 2015, the NSA is allowed to keep whatever personal information it finds on both American and non-U.S. citizens for five years. It doesn’t also need to see the photographs we take at dinner with friends, analyze how many steps we’ve walked that day or hear what kind of music we listen to.
Citizens have a problem with marketers trying to find this information. According to a study by Advertising Age, only 25 percent of people believe that they can be trusted with personal data. We should be furious that the government wants to slip it out of our iPhones while we aren’t looking.
Reports are circulating that Apple has “unlocked” upwards of 70 iPhones in the past for government cases. However, there’s a massive difference between pulling data from a locked device, which Apple was able to do before iOS 8’s mega-encryption, and creating new software to hack into iPhones.
While this kind of operating system could help the FBI learn more about the San Bernardino shooting and the people involved, a line needs to be drawn. Some say not creating the software could threaten our national security. The iPhone’s information could give insight into terrorist groups such as ISIS. But is putting every Apple owner’s personal, private data at risk worth it over one iPhone that may turn out to have nothing on it?
Apple did the right thing by spotlighting the FBI’s demands and calling for public discussion of the case. The company must now stand its ground and remain firm in its decision.