Daily Management Review

Enemy of the State: Why Apple Got Involved in the War with the FBI


Apple and the FBI’s confrontation has become the largest in recent years public debate about where to draw the line between privacy of personal information and national security. The point is not limited by a single phone hacking: since past September, authorities at least 12 times asked Apple to help seize information from the blocked devices, says portal The Intercept.

NJTV News via youtube
NJTV News via youtube
The company cannot meet some of these inquiries without special software to crack - such as the FBI demanded in the case of Farook’s telephone. If the intelligence agency wins, the state will be able to make Apple help hack at least four other devices, writes Wired. Law enforcement officers in the United States have already announced that they have hundreds of iPhones to break into, once Apple lose to the FBI in the dispute.

Subsequently, the FBI’s request for hacking devices may become commonplace, adds Vox. If Apple loses, the US government would force other technology companies to weaken their products’ defense. Then, hackers will be able to find these "holes" in security and steal confidential information, writes Gizmodo.

Apple fears not only to weaken the protection of its customers’ personal data. The precedent could significantly extend the powers of the authorities. "Should the state be able to force us to create other ways to track, such as call recording and tracking the location?" - said Apple in a statement.  

Farook’s Case renewed debate about whether the government should generally have authority to force technology companies to provide backdoors to their products, says Vox. Head of the FBI James Comey advocates that law enforcement officers could receive user data from corporates upon request. Technology companies argue that weakening of their products’ encryption will become more vulnerable to hackers and foreign governments. Criminals would use the same gadget disabilities to obtain information they need.

The consequences of Apple’s possible loss may spread beyond the United States, warns Wired. For example, if the FBI will force Apple to cooperate, China, Russia or Iran can take advantage of the situation, too - they would also demand to open access to user data, explained a lawyer of Electronic Frontier Foundation (non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of civil rights in the field of new technologies). Thus, authorities to virtually any country could get information from the personal gadgets.

Major technology companies have already expressed support for Apple. Among them are Alphabet (Google), Facebook and Microsoft. They are going to sign a joint statement, reported The Wall Street Journal. The tech giants’ position is that the iPhone hacking undermine efforts of the entire industry for protection of digital security customers.

We still don’t know if Apple’s arguments would convince the US authorities. To reach out to the opponents, the company appealed to the main US statute: "The authorities are asking the court to order Apple to create software that will destroy the protection of user information, built by Apple for the iPhone. It violates the rights and freedoms provided by the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Who and how fought the US authorities for the confidentiality of information

Conflict of Apple and the FBI raised old debate about boundaries of the law enforcement’s powers to ensure security in the United States. In recent years, technology companies and public organizations have repeatedly found themselves at the center of scandals, resisting the authorities’ attempts to impose restrictions on them or receive data of their clients. Here are some most vivid examples.

2012: Internet companies against the "anti-piracy" law

In January, the largest Internet company went on strike against the ‘Online Piracy’ law (SOPA; Stop Online Piracy Act), which was then being considered in Congress. The issue’s main point was provision of the right to demand shutdown of an Internet resource for distribution of pirated content, even if the site management was not involved in its creation. First user-generated content sites such as Wikipedia fell under the blow.

January 18, Wikipedia in protest closed the English version of its website for a day. Some sections in the other languages had a banner with an appeal to prevent the law’s adoption. So did other companies, including Google, Mozilla, Flickr, Vimeo - a total of over 75 thousand large and small websites. This way, they tried to show how the Internet might look like in the case of SOPA’s adoption. As a result, the majority of the senators did not support the bill.

2013-2015 years: Edward Snowden against NSA  

In 2013, former US National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden leaked documents, which indicated the US special services’ total control for the Internet and mobile networks. Snowden revealed information about tapping citizens of other countries, surveillance of Internet users, movement of millions of mobile phone owners, bank card payments, intercepting SMS messages.

In June 2015, US President Barack Obama signed US Freedom Act, which reduced powers of the security services in the monitoring of citizens. The law prohibited massive listening and monitoring of electronic communications. Now telecommunications companies are required to keep a communications database, and access to special services will be given only after court’s permission.

2015: WikiLeaks against US

In June 2015, the organization WikiLeaks started publishing classified documents, which confirmed that US intelligence agencies tapped telephone conversations of French presidents in last ten years. In addition, according to WikiLeaks, the US spied on French ministers and the ambassador of this country.

In July, the organization reported that the US government eavesdropped on conversations of Brazilian politicians and officials, too. Later, WikiLeaks published data on tapping of staff and Heads of the German Foreign Ministry from 1998 to 2009.

Diplomatic scandals caused by such publications had repeatedly forced representatives of the US administration to explain away after allegations of spying on the European allies. In June 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry rejected charges of spying on French President.