Apple, privacy and profits before the law?

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Français : (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apple announced through a letter to its customers that it was resisting a court order to give access to a customer’s phone.[1] The phone was owned by one of the assailants in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. [The phone is actually owned by the county government who were the killer’s employer]

Apple has made an impassioned plea to its customers, and the public, that it is protecting their privacy. It is taking a stand against the government. It believes the government is overreaching by asking for Apple to decrypt the phone.[2] Were Apple to do this, it would create a “backdoor” to the system that could be exploited by others. One has to assume that Apple wants to do the right thing. They appear sincere in their desire to protect customer privacy and their own profitability. However, several points are noteworthy.

The first reference to the IPhone as the terrorist’s phone is this letter. A quick search of the news reports in the weeks after the shooting do not show that the IPhone was mentioned. This is odd. Why, if the phone was so important, was it not identified before the court order required it?

Apple has insisted that they have cooperated voluntarily with the government at every stage. They argue that to decrypt the phone would be to create a “backdoor”. In effect, if they comply with the law they undermine their encryption and their profitability. Your privacy, their profits, are more important that the law.

The deeper question is whether the rule of law exists and we have to obey it.[3] If it exists, then is it higher than privacy. Apple says that its customer’s privacy and Apple profits come before the law. They will protect customer privacy and their profits before they comply with the law. They are putting the individual, and their corporate profits, before the community and the law. It would appear Apple wants to decide the law not the legitimately elected government and they want the public to support them.

Apple has insisted that the law being applied, the All Writs Act of 1789[4] is unprecedented.[5] Yet, its history shows that it is almost taken for granted in the way that it exists and is applied. The court may apply writs to extend its legitimate authority and require obedience to its authority. In other words, it requires obedience to the law. Yet, we are told this is unreasonable. The United States government is acting unreasonably in the way it asks Apple to obey the law.

The letter ends with a call to support the government so long as it respects Apple..

And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

The government exists to enforce the law to protect the person, except to the point it jeopardizes Apple’s interests. If Apple have their way, the law must bow to Apple’s demands. Is this a healthy way to have a democracy, the rule of law, or public safety?[6]

 

 

 

[1] http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/

[2] Here is the court order that Apple contests. https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2714005/SB-Shooter-Order-Compelling-Apple-Asst-iPhone.pdf for a view on whether it creates a backdoor or simply opens it to a brute force attack is explained here: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160216/17393733617/no-judge-did-not-just-order-apple-to-break-encryption-san-bernardino-shooters-iphone-to-create-new-backdoor.shtml

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15574189 https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0ahUKEwjyi57g9_7KAhWFtRQKHTq3CxwQFgg1MAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.philosophy.ox.ac.uk%2F__data%2Fassets%2Fword_doc%2F0020%2F1937%2FIs_there_an_obligation_to_obey_the_law.doc&usg=AFQjCNFcn4dO5U2Zn1WIydgsh5DpHfDXiQ&sig2=utWZGeC6Jv4Rwg72GURANQ&cad=rja and http://www.law.uchicago.edu/news/why-do-people-obey-law

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Writs_Act

[5] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/1651 (a)

The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.

(b)

An alternative writ or rule nisi may be issued by a justice or judge of a court which has jurisdiction.

 

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salus_populi_suprema_lex_esto

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in accountability, democracy, ethics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Apple, privacy and profits before the law?

  1. Ian Davidson says:

    Apple are right to object. Once we have given privacy away, you can never get it back. I pay a lot of money for the security that Apple promise. Whilst it is sad that the FBI cannot access the content of the suspects mobile phone, they could if they wanted access the call records and IP addresses used from the phone through access to the Service Provider. If we give the state, whether it be the US or the UK access to encryption then it will be abused, whether they promise to or not

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