Increasingly, we live in a world in which the rights and freedoms of individual citizens are often infringed upon in the name of national security. The most recent and public example of these types of encroachments is the federal government’s actions to compel the tech giant Apple, Inc. to unlock the iPhone of one of the deceased individuals who carried out the December 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
In a Feb. 16 order, a California judge ruled against Apple, stating that the company must not only assist officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in their efforts to unlock the iPhone, but must do so by compelling the company’s engineers to create new software to effectively “bypass the iPhone’s encryption.”
In its argument, the government relied heavily upon a 1789 law known as the All Writs Act which it argues provides “government the authority” to justify its actions. However, Apple and several other prominent technology companies that oppose the government’s actions in this case, argue that the government’s request is outside that which is protected under the 1789 law and beyond the scope of anything previously granted.
The tech companies assert that they will effectively lose the confidence and trust of consumers and that the order is “unsupported by the case law, unduly burdensome to technology companies like applicants, and particularly harmful for American consumers.” The government, however, argues that the phone may contain important information related to additional terror suspects and plots and that national security trumps all other considerations.
In addition to concerns surrounding the privacy of individual citizens, other groups are worried that the government’s actions are a threat to activists and journalists throughout the world. Both the Human Rights Watch and Privacy International note that similar arguments could be used by foreign governments to compel tech companies to reveal data that could endanger civil and human rights, promote censorship and lead to increased surveillance.
The same judge who previously ruled in the matter will preside at a March 22 hearing in which she will consider several friend-of-the-court briefs filed by tech companies including Microsoft Corp., Google , Snapchat Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. We’ll continue to provide updates about this important constitutional matter as more details become available.
Source: Bloomberg, “Microsoft, Google Join Rivals to Back Apple in FBI Fight,” Edvard Petersson, March 3, 2016