The FBI v. Apple: Protected Data or Precious Evidence?

Months after the tragic terror attack in San Bernardino, CA, a U.S. magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI access an iPhone used by the terrorists, but Apple is fighting it. A landmark legal precedent hangs in the balance.


As technology continues to rule our lives, the line between protected personal data and unprotected public data is blurred. The All Writs Act, a U.S. federal statute that has been amended multiple times in the digital age, attempts to draw a hard line, but recent cases have proven that the line remains blurred.

A perfect example of this is the ongoing battle between the FBI and Apple. Even though Judge Sheri Pym commanded Apple to help the FBI access the password protected and encrypted phone to potentially find key evidence against the San Bernardino terrorists, Apple is standing its ground because of strong beliefs.

Apple CEO Tim Cook who, understandably, is looking at the bigger picture of protecting the public’s private data, said, “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI… the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features… In the wrong hands, this software—which does not exist today—would have the potential to unlock any iPhone… The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.”

Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey, who, also understandably, is focused on seeking justice in specific cases, said, ”I would like people to comply with court orders, and that’s the conversation we’re trying to have.”

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton expanded on Comey’s sentiments, “As the threats become more… complex, we cannot give those seeking to harm us additional tools to keep their activity secret… I reiterate my call on Congress to act immediately in passing legislation to provide law enforcement with the tools we need to keep America safe.”

Both sides have equally compelling and honorable arguments from which they refuse to budge.

Aside from the case, what are the potential ramifications if Apple successfully fights the court order?

If they’re successful, this becomes a precedent that will help keep personal data private. There will be a clear line in the sand; passwords and encryptions will serve their purposes, entirely. Not to mention, with the prevalence of “BYOD,” in which companies allow employees to “bring your own device,” which they often use for both personal and business communications, sensitive business data may also maintain heightened protection from legal requests.

Aside from the case, what are the potential ramifications if Apple’s fight is unsuccessful?

If they’re unsuccessful, this becomes a precedent that makes our personal and business data more open. It grants the federal government increased access to our devices and everything that is stored on them. U.S. Attorney’s offices, federal investigators and other legal teams will have a fairly unimpeded path to accessing personal data and/or using it as evidence. Applications and requests for technology companies to grant access to, or break into, an array of digital devices will certainly increase.

Either way, this is a slippery slope.

There are fervid and powerful arguments from both sides. With either possible outcome, a game-changing precedent will be set. It would behoove all of us to follow this story and see how quickly ramifications begin. It would also be prudent to carefully consider how we’re managing the personal and business data on our devices, now, and in the future.

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