Forum

Apple should hack shooter's phone despite risk to privacy

Credit: Brandon Hong/Photo Editor Credit: Brandon Hong/Photo Editor
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Earlier this month, when the FBI announced that they were unable to open the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters due to an automatic self-erase feature iPhones initiate after ten failed passcode attempts, they obtained a court order to have Apple help them create software that can unlock the phone. From the start, Apple has made it clear that they will not support any activities that risk people’s privacy.

Apple’s position seems to be protective of the basic rights of U.S. citizens. In doing so, however, they are unwilling to help protect the public from further terrorist attacks. Since 2013, there has been a 35 percent increase in terrorist attacks worldwide. Any evidence about the shooters from San Bernardino could provide information about future attacks by people related to the shooters and how they can be prevented. Messages, contacts, or photos could provide information about other people who were aiding them, and these people must be held accountable in court for what they did. Specifically, the FBI believes, “the device may hold clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they may have traveled,” according to Fox News. Although commitment to privacy sends out an important message to Apple’s customers, the safety of the U.S. people goes beyond supporting any individual basic rights.

Apple’s disagreement with the government has also upset the families of victims of the December attack, who want justice for what happened to them and their families. In the past week, they have all come together to file documents supporting the FBI in their legal battle. Families of the victims are demanding answers for what happened and how they were targeted. Robert Velasco, who lost his daughter in the shooting, spoke for many of the families when he told The Associated Press, “The only way to find out [what happened] is to open up that phone and get in there ... we’re kind of angry and confused as to why Apple is refusing to do this.” The victims are not alone in this opinion: in poll done by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans said that Apple should unlock the iPhone, while 38 percent said that Apple should ensure the security of user information. Apple is in opposition with the majority of people they are claiming to defend.

Even though Apple has previously cooperated with court orders to release information from private phones, this is the first case in which the government has asked them to create new software that will make it easier to unlock the phone. The main law referenced in these types of court cases is the All Writs Act,, which allows the government to issue orders to seize any information that is not required to be released under other laws.

Apple does not feel obligated to create the software the government is asking for, especially since it puts information from users of all of their devices at risk. New decryption technology would make it so that texts, emails, photos, and other private documents would be vulnerable to being read by other people. However, Apple must take into consideration their powerful standing as a tech company: they have a monopoly on products that have the potential to go beyond the grasp of the government. It opens up the possibility that people can find ways to break laws and avoid being caught. This makes the court case an important precedent for other technology companies to learn from.