Freedom vs. Security: A War between Apple and FBI


This journo got hacked while covering the FBI vs Apple iPhone hack story by Security newspaper

On Dec. 2, 2015, there was a massively bloody shooting incident in San Bernardino County, California. It directly caused the death of 14 people and injury of 17 people, which was the most serious shooting incident in recent years.  President Obama also said, it was “an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”

The whole affair involves in the human rights, law, technology and other aspects. At the first sight, the shooting incident doesn’t have direct relation with Apple. So, why does the shocked strike relate to the war between Apple and FBI? The answer is on an iPhone 5C, which belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, the arch criminal who got shot and dead while fighting against policemen. After capturing the cellphone, police wanted to acquire more Farook’s information from it in order to solve the case, but they had a trouble because they couldn’t crack the encryption technique of iPhone. Therefore, on Feb. 16, 2016, a California magistrate judge ordered Apple to develop and install software to help the FBI break Farook’s phone. However, the Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s decision was out of blue that he officially rejected the FBI and magistrate’s request. In his “A Message to Our Customers”Cook insists that “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.” Throughout the open letter, he demonstrated and emphasizes the significance of information encryption. At the same time, he expresses his sympathy and compassion to the victim; also, the promise is help the FBI solve the case as far as possible, but the encryption is the bottom line.

Then, what does the FBI require Apple for information encryption of iPhone? In short, the FBI expects Apple to develop a new version of iOS operating system that can successfully bypass some important safety functions and can be installed in any iPhone that they want to investigate. Too confused? In short again, the FBI wants Apple to create a “back door.”

Why does the FBI not break it by itself? Apple load an encryption chip on every single iPhone, and Apple uses a complex algorithm named AES, which let each iPhone has its unparalleled “secret key.” The length of the key is 256 bits, which implies that consists of 256 codes with the number “1” and “0.” In other words, if FBI forcibly breaks the code, the secret key might not be broken in next several decades.

It might be the most crisis Apple has to face – confrontation between an enterprise and the public authority. It seems like a mantis trying to stop a chariot, but, here is the United State.

After Cook released his letter, the public opinions were divided between those who supported the administration and Apple. The interesting thing is that most IT companies like Google and Microsoft tend to support Apple, and most governors especially in high level support the FBI. The event initiates escalating at the time.

Through the PRISM crisis, the reputation of U.S. government has plummeted on surveillance and personal privacy. Hence, multinational IT companies like Apple and Google feel restless and try to redeem their credibility. Those companies have to pressure the Congress because the European Union abolished the Safe Harbor in Oct. 2015. However, not only did it merely involve in personal privacy but it also implies a conflict between freedom and centralization of power, or – the public power and private right. From a foreigner’s insight, freedom and the centralized power are Americans’ sensitive sites, because they hardly won their freedom and democracy and they absolutely will worry about the centralized power or its maximum – totalitarianism.

Of course, the moderate majority opposite Apple’s decision. In short, their opinions are the public security is NO. 1. Donald Trump, the presidential candidate (and a punster) posts couple tweet for boycotting Apple.  As he said, “Who do they (Apple) think they are?”

In fact, whether standing in the victims’ angle or the judicial process, Apple should help the government. Why is Apple’s response so uncompromising, and so fast? The answer is that the IT companies have to win back customers’ trust after the PRISM crisis, and the San Bernardino shooting case might be a moment. Apple is proud of its advanced information security and encryption techniques, and they are Apple’s token to win back their credibility. Thus, Cook’s drastic response is like a well-prepared PR tactic for maintain Apple’s strong power on protecting personal privacy. Unlike Steve Jobs, Cook is a businessman, so the pursuit of the interests is understandable. In the shooting event, gaming with the government is not the most difficult for Apple, but succumbing to the government is the worst consequence because it will bring Apple into a much worse situation.

Such an easy choice question, obviously, Apple gives its answer already.




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