As law enforcement investigates the San Bernardino shootings, they’re still in a dispute with Apple.
One of the shooters owned an iPhone, and the FBI needs help from Apple to access what’s on it. A judge in California mandated that Apple create a new operating system that bypasses the security measures on iPhones. But today a federal judge ruled that Apple does not have to help the government against its will.
What makes this situation so difficult is that both sides say they want to ultimately protect people. For the FBI, it’s faster access to information for national security situations. And for Apple, it’s individual security — keeping hackers out of people’s personal information.
Patrick McDaniel, Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Penn State, said, “There are no right and wrong parties in this discussion.”
Patrick McDaniel specializes in smartphone technology and safety. He’s a professor at Penn State and also works with the military to create technology to better protect soldiers who are fighting overseas. He says the San Bernardino iPhone case is just a jumping off point for a much larger issue. That issue: giving up the security of personal smartphones so law enforcement has faster access to that technology.
McDaniel said, “As technology proliferates, and we become more and more involved in a digital world, this is a very fundamental civil rights issue that we need to decide as a society.”
The FBI wants Apple to create a new operating system that bypasses the safety measures that are built into the iPhone — essentially creating a “back-door.” That “back-door” technology has yet to be created. And Apple fears what could happen if they’re forced to create it. McDaniel said, “If they do that, they make a phone which is more vulnerable to more people accessing that data, for example cyber criminals who might want to get access to people’s email or credit card information.”
That also sets a precedent for technology vendors, saying the government can mandate how they create their products. “So this case is really not just about Apple and a particular cell phone. This is a larger discussion about whether or not companies can be required to create back doors in technology,” said McDaniel.
And this is not a debate that will end soon. McDaniel said, “The kind of society we live in moving to the future is going to be determined by the decisions we make about technology over the next 5 or 10 years.”
McDaniel expects this to go to congress, so he urges people to pay attention and get involved by talking to local lawmakers.