Bill Gates has taken the diplomatic high-road of compromise. The Financial Times reported him to have sided with the FBI on the issue of the FBI asking Apple Inc. vs. FBI, a case which arose from the San Bernardino massacre. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook described the FBI order for Apple to create a software backdoor that can allow them to unlock the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, as “chilling,” an “over-reach” and him complying would be a “dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.” Gates told Bloomberg his disappointment with the misrepresentation of his statements.
Bill Gates told Bloomberg Business that it is a challenge to create policies to keep up with new technological advances, but it’s a conversation that must be had. A compromise must be reached between corporations and the government regarding the software provided to the government to give them a back door to access information that the corporations initially protect. Typically, the public favors the government to neither use heavy-handed, intrusive methods of collecting information nor turn a blind-eye to crucial information, but this particular case seems to be the exception.
In cases of terrorism, both domestic and international, there exists public support for increased governmental oversight. While I support aiding the legal system in pursuit of justice, there are clear problems that can arise if Apple chooses to abide by the order to create a software that would allow the investigators to access to the shooter’s iPhone.
Apple may be wary of customizing a tool for the government to allow them to enter anyone’s iPhone and take any information they want at any time. As Gates told Bloomberg Business, historically, our government has taken information from us and used it in ways that one would not see as contributing to the safety or well-being of the nation. He cited the former FBI Director John Edgar Hoover’s excessive powers an example of this.
We live in a society that repeatedly proves terrorism to be an effective tool by simply reacting in a way that spreads terror and encourages stereotyping and racial prejudices. Our own reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate, Donald Trump, called for a stop to all Muslim immigrants from entering the country simply because a small fraction of radical terrorists that are not, in any way, representative of the Muslim community. Even if we do trust our government to take a moral high-ground and not cower to their fears of terrorism coupled with intrinsic racial prejudices, we have other players that may be after this software.
Cyber attacks between countries and within a country itself are becoming a means to which parties are publicly undermining one another. The creation of software that would allow one to access any iPhone it would open a new door to the cyber guerrilla warfare currently being waged. The simple release of information on the users of the Ashley Madison website, a website designed to foster extramarital affairs, caused a storm of repercussions for prominent politicians, CEOs and families throughout the country. This was fairly tame compared to the Snowden leaks, which can potentially happen more often if this technology falls in the wrong hands.
While we do want to pursue justice in this case, the government must also comply the law of the land. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not compel a third party not involved in a crime to aid law enforcement if there are “unreasonable burdens” placed on the company. Apple has complied with the FBI regarding all other requests such as accessing Farook’s iCloud account, but such request to create a software that would potentially allow them to access any iPhone on good faith that it would not be misused in the future may easily fall under “unreasonable burdens” on Apple.
Bill Gates further qualified his statement to Bloomsberg Business stating, “Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon around the disk drive and said ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.’” However, I don’t think that’s the correct analogy for this situation. It’s more along the lines of banks creating a pair of scissors that can cut the ribbon and then handing them over to the government while hoping that the scissors aren’t misused or stolen. In this situation, the caution Apple is exercising in this case is understandable. Though the FBI’s request falls in line with public sentiment, especially in regards to terrorist attacks on domestic soil, Apple’s trepidation is understandable. However, unless Apple can prove that this request falls under the protection of “unreasonable burdens,” Apple will have to comply with this court order.
Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.