Cops weigh in: Apple vs. the FBI

Several officers and others in the law enforcement community gave their take on this complex issue


Apple’s battle against the FBI is just the latest example of Silicon Valley locking horns with law enforcement agencies over consumer privacy and digital security. Several officers and others in the law enforcement community gave their take on this complex issue via our PoliceOne Facebook page. Here are some of the best responses:

 

Should tech companies like Apple allow law enforcement access to a user's device during the course of a criminal investigation – even at the expense of customer privacy and security? Share your take with us.

Posted by PoliceOne.com on Thursday, February 18, 2016

 

1. Apple's compliance sets a dangerous precedent for digital privacy rights
Many agreed that while the ability to access mobile devices and data is crucial to many law enforcement investigations, it’s a slippery slope.

  • “The major problem with the judge's order is that they want something that doesn't already exist. They are ordering Apple to rewrite the iOS to allow them to bypass its security. They would be able to access the phone's data after bypassing the security encryption on the terrorist's phone. That's a good thing,” DeAnn Lloyd wrote. “If the warrant is specific and limited to only that phone, and only for the stated purpose, then yes, they should comply. It does, however, set a precedent which could be expanded in future requests, so I understand why Apple is refusing to comply. This decision needs to be referred to a higher court, even the U.S. Supreme Court. It's a slippery slope and open to abuse by law enforcement and government at all levels. Apple is right to wait for a higher court's decision.”

Some viewed the FBI’s request as an example of government overreaching.

  • “No one, corporations or humans, should be compelled to do anything. The FBI wants to force Apple, and their technicians, to do their job for them,” Micah Lease wrote. “That is analogous to having a search warrant for DNA analysis, and because you're either lazy or incompetent, you refuse to fund and staff your own forensic lab. So you order, and get a court to order, a private laboratory to do your investigation for you, for free. It is a remarkable indication of the status of Liberty in America when a corporation has to stand up for our rights when the government is trying to overreach, instead of vice versa.
     
  • Glenn Davis shared a similar view: “In my forty years of law enforcement, I worked with FBI, CIA, DEA, and Homeland Security. They love to tell us locals how they are the biggest and brightest in the world. If so, then they can figure it out themselves, without Apple’s help. The federal government should not have the power to force a private company to develop a product for the government’s use.”
     
  • Randy Grago also weighed in: “Hundreds of thousands of Americans have fought and died protecting the right of future generations to be free according to the constitution written by our forefathers. What makes you think that the wisdom of more than twenty generations of Americans should be thrown away now? As a retired cop who lives within earshot of where the San Bernardino terrorists were shooting, this one troubles me. I truly believe that getting the information on that iPhone is important. But, I agree with Apple 100 percent on this one. Once the cat is out of the bag, it will never be back in. We owe that to future generations.”
     
  • “Think of the information that one keeps on their cell phones nowadays,” Pete Charles commented. “We recently filed a warrant on a phone for narcotics when the driver of a vehicle fled on foot and left his phone in his vehicle. We barely got the warrant because it "didn't pertain to the case" for felony fleeing. However, once it was dumped the information we were able to see (not use) was astounding. I just don't want that encryption technology given to the government where it's used in the wrong capacity.”

2. It gives more than just the government access to our personal data
Many agreed with Tim Cook’s assertion that creating a vulnerability to the iPhone’s operating system could open up access to the software to virtually anyone.

  • “Many people phones have all their personal information on it,” Thomas Warren Tharpe commented. “By creating a back door, not only does law enforcement have access to your information, but criminal elements do also.”
     
  • Michael Bova reinforced this concern: “Opening vulnerabilities does not limit their use to law enforcement agencies. Once the back door is open then it's open to anyone. It's not about hypothetical government abuse; it's about not making it easy for criminals to hack your device.”

3. Yes, the safety of American citizens is important — but is the cost worth it?
What is the true cost of a case like this? Is safety more important than digital privacy? Many commenters sided with the FBI, with some stating that law-abiding Americans should not be concerned if their data is accessed by a law enforcement agency.

  • Didi Lunceford wrote, “Yes! If you have nothing to hide, you won't mind.”

Some believe safety ultimately trumps privacy.

  • “So when we find out later on down the road that info on that phone could've been used to stop an attack, but it wasn't, and the attack kills people? What do you say then?” Ryan Davis commented. “I'm un-American because I want safety? Okay, that's something you don't hear every day. If you are not involved in any sort of crime or terrorism you have nothing to worry about.”
     
  • Mark Smith echoed this belief: “This level of privacy in the iPhone is almost brand new. For well over 200 years this kind of privacy was not available to most Americans. Apple only invented this uncrackable security just a few short years ago. Why is that level of security so important that it must be protected at the expense of not being able to catch more terrorists? Just a couple of years ago the FBI could and did get into iPhones of criminals. Why is this level of privacy all the sudden so sacred now?”
     
  • Billy Green eloquently captured our Facebook users' opposition to this perspective. He argued, “Can we, as a nation, give in to some myopic idea that terrorism is a battle that can be fought and once over, we go back to our lives like nothing has ever happened? Or worse, that it is a war to be fought "over there" and not by "us"? No, I know that we cannot afford to think that way. On Sept. 11th, 2001 a door was opened that will never be closed. We joined a fraternity, a fraternity of countries that have been preyed upon by cowards, by terrorists. If however, we give in to fear and allow our government to whittle away at our civil liberties (the Patriot Act, what irony) then the terrorists have already won. Do not submit Apple.”

Where do you stand on the issue? Share your thoughts in the comments, below. 

About the author

Cole Zercoe is the Associate Editor of PoliceOne, responsible for writing and editing news articles, original columns, product articles, and trade show coverage. From the latest police technologies and innovations to the emerging threats cops face in the digital age, his features focus on the complexity of policing in the modern world.

Contact Cole Zercoe

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