The San Bernardino iPhone debate continues. Apple was on Capitol Hill this week fighting the FBI in their quest to have Apple build a custom OS that could get agents into the iPhone.
In the past, and indeed with this case, Apple has provided other help, such as handing over iCloud backups and other server data. So it isn’t that Apple is definitively against giving information to law enforcement when properly requested. They just don’t want to create a backdoor of sorts that would leave a gapping hole in iOS security.
But what if they did? If Apple did what the FBI wanted, told them that this was a one-time thing, and provided the FBI with the special OS, then what would happen? The whole incident would be over. Apple would claim that it was a special case. Not many people would argue. Only a few privacy and security experts would voice an opinion on the subject. And there is always plenty to talk about in privacy and security, so it wouldn’t even get that much attention.
Why is Apple fighting? Some say it is marketing. But half the people in polls seem to think Apple should work with the FBI. And probably most of the other half wouldn’t complain too much if Apple had done this in the first place.
The problem is, of course, that it would be setting up a precedent and this would only be the first of many iPhones that Apple would need to modify for the FBI and other agencies. Eventually, the code that Apple uses for this would leak out and it wouldn’t just be the government that would be able to get to the information on our iPhones. That’s what Apple is afraid of — compromising security and weakening iOS.
Is it possible that Apple is doing this for the best of reasons? That it isn’t about money. That it isn’t about popular opinion and marketing. That it isn’t for any other reason other than it is the right thing to do?
Steve Jobs always talked about how Apple is about making great products. Most corporations are either about maximizing shareholder value, maintaining or increasing revenue, or satisfying customers. But Apple is supposed to be about making great products.
So which decision makes a better product? Heading down the road that leads to devices with backdoors? Or working to increase security so that the only person who has access to your data is you?