Apple vs. FBI: Our civil liberties are under threat

While incarcerated in Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Over 50 years later, his words still remain pertinent, but in a different context; one that concerns the U.S. government’s legislation and presence in our digital world. Our right to privacy remains firmly established in the law, but in its attempt to combat the war on terror, the government threatens to violate our personal security for the sake of national security. Recently, Apple Inc. has publicly opposed an order from the FBI in an act that has garnered praise from supporters of digital privacy and unrelenting pressure from the Department of Justice.

On December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in the San Bernardino attack. In the aftermath, the FBI was tasked with salvaging information from the terrorists’ devices, in which they demanded that Apple develop software that could potentially unlock all iPhones.

Although it may initially seem just for Apple to create a backdoor for entering the phone, as the government is asking, the company has rebuked the government’s wishes, and rightly so. The FBI argues that unlocking the phone is an act to aid national security in the digital age and may help the government learn more about the San Bernardino shooters and their ulterior, if any, motives. But what is the cost? Unlocking this one phone gives the government unrestrained power to monitor any Apple device that would eventually result in the unjustifiable violation of the private lives of American citizens. Like Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, said, “The government suggests this tool could only be used once … But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again … capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks … No reasonable person would find that acceptable.” Succumbing to the FBI’s wishes would compromise Apple’s promise of providing encryption and privacy to its customers, as well as set a dangerous precedent for other tech companies to submit and comply to the will of the US security services.

The FBI claims that the software it has requested will only be used in specific cases of terrorism, but it is almost inevitable that such a program will be used to access the devices of every single Apple user, regardless of their race, nation, or affiliation with any organization. After all, the United States National Security Services already have a reputation for “indulging” in indiscriminate mass surveillance on civilians.

While Apple is playing its role in protecting our privacy from the prying eyes of the government, we as U.S. citizens should take a stand, speak out, and actively support its resistance, lest we find ourselves living in a society where our every action and word is monitored and scrutinized by a ubiquitous government.

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Graphic by Nina Zhong

The Department of Justice argues that Apple’s refusal to unlock the phone is a mere “marketing strategy,” which may certainly be true.  However, Apple should be commended for establishing a business strategy that centers around consumer trust, privacy, and security, for their policies may be more in touch with the American values of liberty and freedom from tyranny than the government itself. In the end, we must keep King’s words in mind, for we all as citizens of the United States have a responsibility to prevent unjust action by the government. And as the battle wages on, we’ll be eagerly waiting for the next iPhone.

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