Apple vs. The FBI

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Basant Gupta, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur

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The ongoing fight between companies and authorities over encryption reached new heights this week as it was revealed that Apple has been asked by the FBI to essentially build a backdoor into iPhone software. Apple CEO Tim Cook’s open letter, published on the Apple website, lays out exactly what the firm has been ordered to do and calls for a public discussion on the matter of encryption.

But for many, especially those outside the tech community, this conversation can seem impenetrable, making a public discussion that much more difficult to foster. It seems then, that we could all do with a bit of a refresher on the matter at hand, so as to prime ourselves for the impending discussion. One of these security features which the FBI wants disabled is one which deletes all the user data after a certain amount of failed passcode entries. Investigators risk losing all the information on Farook’s phone if they continue to try to guess the passcode incorrectly, hence why they want that particular feature disabled. If Apple is unable to disable the auto-erase function, the court order states that the firm should create software that enables them to do so.

The debate over data encryption and when, or even if, authorities should have the right to order its removal, has been going for some time. Tensions have somewhat increased since the Edward Snowden revelations which exposed massive government surveillance in both the United States and UK. When it comes to the current debate on data security, the key phrase to bear in mind is End-To-End Encryption. This is a name for a method of secure communication that stops third parties accessing data while it’s being transferred from one party to another. If you send a Whatsapp message to a friend for example, the data is encrypted until it reaches your friend so that anybody looking to intercept it will be unable to interpret it.

This is a big deal because not only would it create a potentially devastating security threat for iOS users were it to fall into the wrong hands, it also sets what Apple calls ‘a dangerous precedent’ by establishing the government’s right to ‘reach into anyone’s device to capture their data’.

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