In June 8, 1789, James Madison drafted one of the most famous pieces of legislation ever brought before Congress: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable” (United States, 1076). For more than two centuries, this statement has defined America and all that people hold it to be. It has been faithfully upheld and applied, making the United States the first country in the world to offer true freedom to its people. But in the past few decades, post-modern technology has raised considerably difficult issues regarding the first Amendment and Cyber-security. In the recent case Apple vs. FBI, this issue has become even more pressing, for as the case progresses, public awareness is being raised, and they are responding with concern. They should be concerned, encryption and security systems on computers are becoming more and more sophisticated while being developed in greater and greater secrecy. How all this will work out in the long run remains to be seen, but it may be that the recent and continued case Apple vs. FBI may play an important role in the hectic world of technology and the subsequent impact on the first Amendment rights of computer users nationwide.
The case began began in San Bernardino, California, when two terrorists killed fourteen people and wounded others. When the police went to investigate, they found, among other things, three iPhones; two were irrecoverably crushed, but the third was intact. After many repeated tries to break the encryption on the phone, the FBI called up the company that made the phone; Apple. The FBI demanded that the company create a way for them to break the iPhone encryption so they could read the data and collect evidence; Apple refused (Grossman). Apple argued that encryptination code was a form of free speech, and that under the protection of the first Amendment the FBI could not force them to write a key to unlock the iPhone encryption system (Williams). This single case raises several very important questions; what is encryption? What does it do? How does it affect our rights such as privacy? Let’s start with the first one.
Encryption is the scrambling of data according to a computer program that is then protected with a key. It was invented in the late 1970’s to protect data sent over the Internet, and has since been improved and modified many times, but the concept remains the same; to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing information on a computer (Britannica). This can certainly raise some issues, Apple does want to protect their customers privacy, but some may say that according to their response they do not particularly care about their customers safety. While this is unlikely, encryption does pose a threat to many people; as has been demonstrated in the Apple case, criminals who want to cover their tracks will most likely choose an encrypted device to manage their plans with, they might even choose Apple. But then again, many people simply want to protect their rights to privacy and to their own information. During an interview Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, addressed this issue directly, “you don’t take away the good for that sliver of bad. We’ve never been about that as a country” (qtd. in Grossman). This is a strong point for Apple, they have a right to manufacture legal products and sell them as much as they want, right? Maybe.
Encryption seems to be a practically invincible shield between people who have destructive intentions, and the government. But does encryption really do more good than bad? If encryption were to be banned, how would it affect consumers who use their devices on a daily basis? Encryption has been around since the first personal computers first appeared, and to try and simulate such a situation would be impossible, but as things stand, encryption is a necessary part of computer security; without encryption, wireless networks would easily be intercepted, and much valuable information would be stolen. Regular computer users are most likely using encryption whether they know it or not, as more an more operating systems come with encryption permanently enabled with no warning or any other notification to the user that their device is encrypted. And on the other end of the spectrum there are some who know very well that they are using encryption and use it to their, sometimes devastating, advantage. As the issue of encryption becomes more complex, some may come to the conclusion that encryption has worked us into a corner, leaving us stuck with encryption technology that we don’t want, and can’t get rid of.
Apple and the FBI have one more court appearance to make before the final decision is made, but it seems clear that this final showdown will ultimately mean more than just a case of Apple helping the FBI. If Apple wins the case, it will ultimately prove who really is in power; if corporate or government interests are higher up on the ladder, then who really is in control. For many cases this would not be true, but because the case is involved directly with the government regarding a case of domestic terrorism, you could say it isn’t Apple vs. FBI but Apple vs. America.
The case remains to be closed, and there is no possible way to predict the outcome, but such an important case is sure to have a fairly significant impact on the future of encryption and technology in general. And this is just for the moment; technology is changing fast, the speed of computers has been steadily doubling every two years, and they are going to continue doing so. Also the importance of who is really ruling America; that such a company could fight the government using the first Amendment might defeat the purpose of a country ruled by the people, that people with too much power could possibly challenge the government. How technology and the first amendment are going to battle this out remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, the fight between Cyber-security and the first Amendment is far from over.