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Apple v. the FBI: Is the Fight Over?

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Yolanda Rondon

This week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped its lawsuit against Apple. The DOJ sought a court order to legally require Apple to create an operating system to get around iPhone encryption protections. Since December 2015, the FBI and Department of Justice have sworn that the only way to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters was with Apple's help.
Apple has built in specific security protections into the iPhone software to protect customer data, and to prevent access by anyone who is not the owner or does not have the owner's password. The government wanted Apple to essentially create a backdoor that would allow the government to hack the iPhone. But any software tool that is created to specifically weaken the iPhone's security protections could also be exploited by others. It's like leaving the window of your home open, and expecting a criminal to break into your home from the front door but not the window.
The government's request to Apple would make the iPhone vulnerable to other hackers, increasing the risk of breaches to iPhone users' private and confidential information. A recent report by Amnesty International also found that forcing companies to provide 'backdoors' to encryption deployed in their products or services will interfere with users' rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The Apple case also has greater implications on civil liberties. As Congresswoman Eshoo articulated, "Efforts to circumvent code that protects sensitive information on one device creates a dangerous precedent for future seizure of information and a pathway for unauthorized access of that information . . . Yes, law enforcement is important to us, but mass access to surveillance by the federal government is not the answer."
The Apple case brought to the forefront an ongoing debate of the balance between national security and civil liberties. Partly, because Apple decided to fight back and has the resources to actually do so. But the battle over civil liberties has been brewing for some time.
Last year, President Obama signed into law under the omnibus spending bill, the Cyber Information Sharing Act. The Act authorizes companies to police their consumers' personal information, texts, and calls, and share this information instantly with the government. This is real time sharing of "cyber threat indicators" to military and intelligence agencies, and automatic sharing with the National Security Agency (NSA). Law enforcement overreach continues with state legislation in California and New York, which attempt to ban all encryption on smartphones.
In other attempts to force tech companies to become investigative arms of the government, the government has pressured companies to censor speech. The government wants tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to remove content off their websites, as part of the government's efforts to combat violent extremism. The government couches the speech and content it seeks technology companies to remove as "extremist material." But what is extremism? What is considered extremist material? What is considered extremism is subjective and a continuously evolving perception. Extremism speech encompasses speech that perhaps is deemed unfavorable, different, or contrary to society standards and/or acceptance at that time. Nevertheless, even extremist speech is protected speech, as evident by political rhetoric dominating the 2016 Presidential election.
However, historically and in recent times with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the government improperly classifies and treats political opposition, 1st Amendment-protected speech, as violent extremist speech. It basically amounts to the government using fear to crackdown on unfavorable speech, and views, beliefs, thoughts and ideas they do not agree with or like.
The Apple case was more than just about one smartphone. It signaled the existence of a public climate of apathy to government intrusion into our daily lives, that would allow the government to engage in actions of a McCarthyism-like era. The privacy and civil liberties of all internet and technology users are at stake.

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