At no time in recent history has the personal privacy debate resonated so strongly as in the ongoing struggle between Apple and the FBI. In an attempt to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook, the FBI has begun an extended legal battle against the tech corporation, attempting to force them into creating software that would allow the bureau access to data stored inside the locked phone. This attempt culminated in the issuance of a court order, a command which Apple has strongly denied and actively fought against.
The proposed workaround would not allow law enforcement to break through the encryption, but rather bypass it, ultimately allowing access to information stored inside. Despite repeated claims that granting such access would simply help further Apple’s case, the repercussions would extend far beyond. This single loss of individual privacy would create an irreparable loss of freedom.
Additionally, the claim that bypassing encryption would be somehow better than outright breaking through is flimsy at best. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, discussed the idea, clarifying that encryption is “only as secure as the protections around it.”
If Apple were to design a workaround for this case, there would be little in terms of practical limitation preventing them from applying it to other cases. The resulting legal precedent would give the FBI, as well as smaller law enforcement agencies, the ability to access the phone of any individual under suspicion. While such an action may seem unlikely to occur frequently, many organizations already have a backlog of phones of phones they are waiting to access.
Granting access in this instance is a slippery slope, and the best option would be to simply avoid setting foot on it.
Ignoring the possible legal and social implications, this situation is deeply troubling on the level of basic principle. FBI director James Comey, who is leading the charge against Apple, gave a personal appeal, claiming “We can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”
It is a nice sentiment, but the violation of our basic rights should never be required for an investigation. Terrorist attacks, like those at San Bernardino, are perpetrated to create fear. Terrorists understand that they have no opportunity to take on and overthrow American society militarily, so they attack our psyche and target our insecurities. If we allow attacks like these to convince us to surrender our basic rights, the terrorists win.
Beyond the danger of spreading fear, allowing this single violation of privacy opens ourselves up to a series of intrusions. Once we deem it acceptable for the government to access personal information, there is little stopping federal agencies from moving beyond cell phones.
We already live in a culture of surveillance. We are watched constantly, whether by security cameras on the street or by Google as we search the web. Maybe this constant observation keeps us safe, but it doesn’t always feel that way. The slogan “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” rings false because it fails to acknowledge the anxiety of being under scrutiny, the fear of being watched.
Now that surveillance and constant searches are the norm, the natural assumption is that they happen for a reason. Instead of feeling secure when I see people being frisked and scanned in the doorway of a building, I assume there is some potential for danger. It is the safety measures that suggest reason for concern.
While I do not doubt these safety measures are effecive to an extent, there is a line we must draw; we must refuse to surrender rights for convenience. While a bit of waiting at the airport is merely a slight inconvenience, giving the FBI the opportunity to access encrypted phones is too much to surrender for the sake of comfort.
It may feel like gaining access to Farook’s phone is a necessity, a moral imperative that should transcend our normal boundaries. But, it is moments such as these where the best decision, no matter how difficult it may be, is to hold strong. Right now it may feel like you have nothing to hide, but that will change once they start looking.
Conlan Campbell ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Burnsville, Minn. He majors in English.