Apple Are Making A Stand That Affects Everyone

Apple taking on the FBI is making news, understandably. Could this be the defining moment for Tim Cook, Apple CEO? Just a good business decision to side with the consumer and the protection of their privacy, or a more far reaching and inspiring act of defiance on this new frontier of civil liberties? Well, it kind of gets to be both.

Apple, always known for innovation, arguably hasn’t done anything truly out there and innovative since the passing of Steve Jobs, but this action is a game changer, and could represent a line in the sand. The letter from Tim Cook to Apple Customers outlines how, following the shootings in San Bernadino which claimed 14 lives, a court has ordered Apple to help the FBI to hack the phone of one of the shooters.

A New Frontier For Civil Liberties Is Being Explored

Privacy has been front and center for a long time – hackers, Wikileaks, Snowden, various Privacy Reforms for the internet. People are aware that their data is under threat, and they have been trying to push back, as have manufacturers, on the idea of a back door that makes their data even more vulnerable to hackers. The FBI’s claim that this is a one use set up that they are asking for stretches credulity, and as Apple’s Lawyer has argued – it totally hits at Apple’s ability to continue doing business in the same way that they have before.

Most of the big names in the tech industry have weighed in with an opinion on what the ramifications would be, John McAfee even offering to hack the phone to prevent what he sees as a potential disaster for American industry. It destroys trust between the consumer and the company for sure, but it represents a massive weakening of security on devices that a lot of people use – it would totally change the playing field as far as security and data encryption go, and would have an unfathomable impact on the way people use technology.

Code is considered to be speech and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. Because getting Apple to sign off on the creation of what is effectively a crippled version of IOS, both in the writing of the code and the cryptographic signature that would make it work on the device is forcing and coercing Apple to say something under duress – or under unreasonable burden, it affects their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment also comes into play when considering the privacy data of every single Apple customer out there, who would suddenly become suddenly more vulnerable to hackers of every kind.

Authorities have been testing the boundaries and trying to find new ways to control electronic data for a while now, and the fact that this latest iteration of the push to create back doors and to grant access to people’s private data has pulled in one of the really big players in the tech industry is significant. The fact that Apple are trying very hard to draw a line in the sand is definitely going to win them some fans – as it should, both amongst consumers and other  tech companies. Post-Snowden everyone is aware that they are being spied on (if they didn’t suspect it before) through their devices and protection is an important thing.

If innovation was what Steve Jobs brought to the table, maybe Cook’s contribution is going to be protecting our privacy and electronic civil liberties – that wouldn’t be a bad legacy. It is going to be interesting to see how other companies react when faced with the same kind of pressure; it will be interesting to see how a company’s customer base reacts when their data is suddenly very much at risk.