Apple vs FBI

Jay Park, Staff Reporter


   The four-digit password you create on your iPhone seems only effective at keeping your friends from messing with your phone. However, this seemingly simple layer of defense is keeping the FBI from accessing a regular iPhone 5c.

  The FBI is in possession of the iPhone of the culprits of the San Bernardino attack. The bureau is unable to access the phone to check if Syed Farook, the owner, had contacted the Islamic State prior to the attack. The obstacle is the password input feature of the iOS.

  Since its debut in 2007, many have asked Apple to access locked iPhones, breaching the security of civilians, but Apple has refused to do so. Instead, Apple has made the security more complicated. While previously just a four-digit number, now it can even include letters and symbols.

The iOS wasn’t originally this protected. However, as time went on, as iPhones were bought in China specifically for its safety, Apple felt the need to install higher levels of encryption for its users.

 In 2014, a year after China Mobile relented to allow the sale of iPhones in China, a new feature was added to the iOS 8. By setting up a device passcode, the user automatically enables Data Protection. iOS supports four-digit and arbitrary-length alphanumeric passcodes. It is automated so that one attempt takes approximately 80 milliseconds. This prevents brute force programs to enter every type of password, and thus one cannot access the data without the passcode.

  Apple, more specifically, Tim Cook, its chief executive, has refused to cooperate with authorities. Their arguments seem ideological. Several days after the incident became public Cook wrote a letter to all Apple users, stating that, “The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.”

  However, we can suspect the motivation behind the refusal is not purely out of concern for user privacy. Sales of Apple products in China is increasing steadily, comprising of nearly 30 percent of sales, data from Wall Street Journal in October of 2015. Once Apple creates a program to decrypt the password for iPhones, it claims that anyone would be capable of producing or purchasing such a program. China, especially with the Orwellian-like mindset of totalitarian surveillance, would demand Apple to allow the access to iPhones as well.

  Despite its simplicity, the password input is the only gate that blocks the physical iPhone model from being accessed. This puts even greater pressure on Apple to not create a program to unlock it.

  However, Apple and FBI are not the only corporations in this debate. Some companies such as Google and FaceBook have sided with Apple. They believe that Apple should comply with its own privacy and terms of service.

    Unlike other tech companies, Bill Gates has displayed neither a black nor white stance on this matter: “I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind,” Gates said. “But it’s important not to get too caught up in the emotions following a terrorist attack.”

  The situation is in a deadlock: Apple continues to challenge the court’s request to decrypt iPhones, while the FBI demands more iPhones from other unfinished cases be unlocked.