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Monday, October 24, 2016

Apple’s iPhone and the FBI: Recalibrating the Right-to-Privacy

On February 29, 2016, a federal judge rejected the FBI’s request to unlock the work-issued iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 people at a 2015 holiday gathering of county workers. The FBI and DEA cited the All Writs Act, a law passed in 1789 that authorizes federal courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”[1] The U.S. Justice Department was demanding that “Apple create software to bypass security features on the phone.”[2] In other words, Apple was to “write code that overrides the device’s auto-delete security function.”[3] In response, Apple’s lawyers argued that the statute does not give the court the right to “conscript and commandeer” the company into defeating its own encryption, thus making its customers’ “most confidential and personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, hostile foreign agents and unwarranted government surveillance.”[4] Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO at the time, said the FBI “was asking his company to create a ’back door’ that could be used to unlock other phones, exposing customer data. Agreeing to the FBI's demand would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to other calls for Apple's help to obtain private information, Cook said.”[5] Only weeks later, the FBI abruptly dropped the case because the bureau had found an outside company with technology that could serve as a master key. The FBI could use the “key” to unlock any iPhone. This left customers fearful that their data was now less than private even though Apple had promoted the iPhone product as not having a “back door” In the end, (t)he iPhone fight exposed a rift between the FBI and Silicon Valley technology companies over encryption, and sparked a debate about the right balance between privacy and national security.”[6] I suspect that although a trade-off, or tension between the right of privacy and the national-security interest of the United States existed at the time, electronic privacy would become harder and harder to protect as a result of the FBI’s tactics.  

The full essay is at "Apple's iPhone and the FBI."





1.  Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
2. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.
3. Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
4. Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
5. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.
6. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.