Research Topic: The ethics and the effectiveness of encryption on personal devices such as iphones or on private media like emails vs. surveillance for the sake of security.

Questions: Government, for a long time, has held the right to search and seize any personal property from anybody with a proper warrant, but the introduction and extensive implementation of technology in our daily lives complicates this issue such as in the case of Apple vs. the FBI.

-Are emails or phone data personal property?

-Can they be subject to government seizure at will?

-Is this ethical to do for the sake of national security?

-What could be the potential consequences of opening a “master key” to everyone’s digital data to the government


On December 2, 2015 at 10:58 am, married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik enter a banquet room in the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center armed with semi-automatic pistols, rifles, and a backpack of improvised explosives designed to remotely detonate. More than 100 shots are fired into a party of about 80, killing 14 and injuring 22 others. The couple are pursued for 4 hours after escaping and are killed by police in a shootout. This attack broke national headlines and swept the nation as the deadliest mass shooting in the country since Sandy Hook and the worst terrorist attack on homeland soil since September 11th.

In 2016, the following year, lawyers from the Obama Administration and Apple held tense discussions for several months regarding the iPhone of one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook. The FBI wanted to access the phone to retrieve potentially crucial information regarding the recently committed terror attack and possibly future plans. The only problem was that the iPhone’s security features were designed to erase all onboard data after 10 failed attempts at the passcode. The Bureau turned to Apple and demanded a one-time backdoor workaround be provided for the government to bypass this security feature and essentially allow them unlimited tries at hacking into the phone. Apple refused, citing the ethics of handing over domain of personal data to the government and jeopardizing the privacy of many more Apple devices in the future. In a letter addressed to the public regarding the issue, Apple CEO Tim Cook said “The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”   President Barack Obama voiced his support for the FBI and their pursuit of security in a public appearance saying “If technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?”.

The issue became highly contentious at the time and had the potential to set incredible precedent as many police stations around the country eagerly observed, all in possession of hundreds of iPhones with potentially incriminating evidence to rapes, murders, or even future terrorist attacks locked away on them. If Apple could be forced to unlock Farook’s phone, who says it can’t unlock any other one if there is reason to believe it would benefit national security. Public opinion about the issue was controversial. Polls varied depending on who was participating in them. Polls taken primarily online with no scientific selection of participants were overwhelmingly in support of Apple refusing to unlock the phone, while a poll done by Pew Research using peer-reviewed methodology to obtain a representative sample of the American electorate churned out results slightly more in favor of the FBI and national security.

In researching this issue I will be addressing several questions and issues involving security of digital data and the role that government can or cannot play in it. These questions include:

-Can our rights of privacy be rescinded for the sake of security and how far can this go?

-Does the government have access to our digital data and/or does this data count as “property”? *

-What can the fallout from the post-9/11 Patriot Act teach us about the potential consequences of this case?

-Would our society benefit more from a digital space free from government intervention or even regulation,?

This project clearly seems to focus heavily on the relationships of people and the government, but it also highlights one of many crucial problems that our society encounters as it becomes increasingly integrated with technology. Sometimes the regulatory processes of established government can’t adapt quick enough to changes in technological development and we find ourselves either helpless against unforeseeable dangers, or promptly overreacting and ceding personal liberties we may never get back. In its essence, this project will explore the reactions of society to rapidly growing technology and the problems that come with it that can affect the lives of everyone in this information age.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/technology/apple-timothy-cook-fbi-san-bernardino.html [Apple vs. FBI]

https://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/29/apple-vs-fbi-all-you-need-to-know.html [More Details]

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-san-bernardino-shooting-terror-investigation-htmlstory.html [San Bernardino Shooting]

 

https://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm [Patriot Act]

 

https://www.apple.com/customer-letter/ [Tim Cook Letter]

 

http://fortune.com/2016/02/23/apple-fbi-poll-pew/ [Polls]