Unlocking Liberty

This week a US judge asked Apple Inc. to help them unlock the iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, has resisted this order citing risk to his customers and implications that extend past the case itself. Since then, notable people have stood up in defense of each side. On the one hand some say that not unlocking the phone is helping terrorists. The other side says that this sets a dangerous precedent, and that the FBI is just using one case to open the door for unlocking any device they want in the future. I don’t claim to be an expert on security, government, or terrorism. However, there are a few things I’d like ‘we the people’ to keep in mind as this discussion unfolds.

  1. The government does not have a good track record of using their abilities in a limited scope. Recall if you will the Patriot Act. Many people were okay with it initially because of its promise to aide in stopping the terrorist threat. However, years later we know that it’s been used to access innocent citizens’ information on disturbing levels and has been active past the time it was intended for. I want to hope that our government would not use device access methods maliciously, but I don’t think any of us are na├»ve enough to rule out the possibility.
  2. It’s unnecessary to force Apple’s hand. If any organization in the world should be able to crack an iPhone it’s the FBI. They have some of the best tech minds in the country, one of the most technically developed countries in the world, at their disposal. Aside from that, there are independent hackers available for hire. John McAfee , creator of McAfee antivirus, recently volunteered to do this for free. That would allow us to access the data without setting a legal precedent that allows the government to force companies into unlocking customers’ devices.
  3. We’re slipping into a dangerous mindset where anything is acceptable if there is a remote possibility of catching terrorists. Not that we shouldn’t be vigilant about tracking terrorists and securing the country, but at what point are we doing ourselves more harm than good? If we continue down the trail of sacrificing liberty for security then we’ve already accomplished the terrorists’ goals for them. They will have defeated the American spirit and caused us to relinquish ourselves to servitude. Not servitude to an oppressive regime they placed on us, but one we created ourselves, driven by our fear of them. Also, on a more conspiratorial note, we can’t assume that ill-intentioned individuals or organizations wouldn’t use that fear as a carrot to drive us farther and farther down a path that releases liberty and gives them power. The use of terrorism seems increasingly like the wars of George Orwell’s ‘1984’. Is it Eurasia or Eastasia that we’re fighting now? I can never keep track.

In summary, there will be innumerable situations through the years where the question of security vs liberty will be raised. Don’t be quick to assume that everything marketed as anti-terrorism is pro-American, and when in doubt err on the side of liberty.

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