Apple Versus FBI: What's the Right Side of the Slippery Slope?

The news media has extensively covered the issues between Apple and the FBI. The Government has secured a court order to compel Apple to unlock the iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorists that killed 14 and seriously injured 22 people. Of course, most Americans are in favor of stopping terrorists and terrorism that aims at destroying the fabric of a free society. As with just about everything in the real world, however, the lesser of evils or the better of options is not always obvious. There are certainly good arguments on both sides.

More questions than answers

While people have strong opinions about what Apple should or shouldn't do, there are so many questions without a lot of clear-cut answers. What is America about? What are we protecting? Many would say freedom or free will. Does supporting Apple's position or the FBI's bring us greater freedom? The answer is not clear.

Right to privacy versus security

What destroys the fabric of a free society more - compromising the right to privacy or foregoing information that may (or may not) add value to what is already known about San Bernardino terrorists and their network? We have already seen TSA agents taking nail clippers from 80-year olds in wheel chairs and baby bottles from mothers with infants. Has that made everyone safer, or does this unnecessarily inconvenience ordinary citizens that want to go about living their lives?

Which position will more likely give terrorists what they want?

By compelling Apple to crack the code and open back doors, could the Government be giving the terrorists what they want? After all, government officials and company executives around the world use the iPhone simply because it has better encryption than other choices. Once the encryption is decoded, could that compromise our security more and expose companies to more industrial espionage?

On the other hand, if Apple refuses to do this, might this encourage the FBI and hackers around the world to break the phone in ways that might hurt Apple more? At least, if Apple cracks its own code, it might be able to better control the situation than if others do it.

Some believe the iPhone is so well encrypted, others will not be able to crack it, and if Apple does create a back door to their own phone, where and when will it stop? Will all law enforcement agencies all over the world line up at Apple's headquarters to compel Apple to break the encryption of their own phone?

Who's for and against?

To better understand what side of the slippery slope to choose, it is useful to look at who is taking what sides.

  • Siding with Apple. Encryption experts; People whose identities and credit cards have been stolen or compromised; Programmers that understand the dangers of security breaches; Civil libertarians; those that distrust the Government. The people and companies that support Apple's position include: Twitter, Facebook, the CEO of Google, Mark Cuban, the New York Times Editorial Board, and Edward Snowden.
  • Siding with the FBI. Various governmental agencies; The Obama Administration; Police forces; and Military representatives. Those that support the Government position include the following: Bill Gates (although he has recently waffled on his position), California Senator Dianne Feinstein (who many consider to be a liberal or moderate), Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton (a darling of conservatives), Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Republican presidential candidates Cruz, Rubio, and Trump (aren't they for smaller government?), and Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle.
  • Please note that it is hard to match those for and against with any political party, religious belief, or any other clear belief system pattern. This shows how complicated the issue really is, and how difficult it is to take a clear position that does not involve shades of grey.

    The marketing issues

    From a marketing viewpoint, Tim Cook has little choice but to defend two of the most important benefits of the iPhone - security and privacy. Apple's corporate image is also at stake. Wouldn't people that buy Apple products expect the company to defend their privacy and security? While Tim Cook has done an admirable job, it is not good enough. He really needs to articulate the serious dangers to all of us for creating back doors and breaking the phone's encryption. While the FBI/Government has less to lose because many view its job is to protect the public whatever the cost, going after an admired company for protecting the interest of its customers is likely to fuel the flames of distrust that already exists. After all, isn't our Government supposed to be of, for, and by the people? How many of us really know which position is better for us?

    Still not clear

    After thinking about all the issues, the path is not crystal clear. The decision has to be made on the basis of the greater good (lesser of evils), and what is most fundamental to the fabric of America. If you add up all the pluses and minuses, and you believe in what the United States of America is all about, I think you are more likely to side with Apple. Our rights and freedoms are best served by protecting our privacy. The FBI has learned a lot about these terrorists, and all government agencies need to "do what they can" to eradicate terrorism from the planet. However, they need to do that without taking away our privacy, nail clippers and baby bottles. The greater good is at stake