How would you feel if others could access your personal data and information? Do you think you’ve got nothing to hide? Most modern phones have the ability to store and automatically enter usernames and passwords, as well as keeping records of your phone calls, texts and those late night Googles.
Encryption has been a topic of much controversy. It is key for protecting personal data but hinders law enforcement and government agencies when solving cases and stopping potential terrorist attacks.
After the 2013 Edward Snowden data leaks, many technology companies, including Apple, strengthened their encryptions. Consequently, government agencies will not be able to bypass the data encryption. This issue was highlighted in the 2015 San Bernardino Case of the FBI vs Apple, where the FBI asked Apple to create a ‘backdoor’ into their secure devices.
Should Data Privacy and Civil Liberties be protected or should National Security be prioritised?
Apple – Keep the backdoor locked
Whilst Apple recognised a legitimate need for cooperation with law enforcement on matters of national security, they refused to build a backdoor to the iPhone as they believed it to be fundamentally wrong to jeopardise the integrity of the iPhone security and their core values as a company.
One of Apple’s core values is to protect customer’s privacy when using their products; therefore, it can be said that they have a duty of care to uphold security and data encryption. By upholding their core values as a company, Apple acted ethically in line with Duty Ethics when refusing to build the backdoor.
A key part of Apple’s customer care is in building a two-way relationship; customers’ trust that Apple will safeguard their welfare. In valuing the importance of this relationship and refusing to build the backdoor, Apple acted ethically according to Care Ethics; they valued maintaining their strong relationship with their customers over their relationship with the FBI.
“We must improve security instead of creating insecurity.” – The Information Technology Industry Council
A backdoor technology would make extracting a suspect’s data easier, however, it introduces a large-scale insecurity and weakens our national privacy. As an exploitable technology, it would make it easier for other foreign intelligence agencies and hackers working for criminal organisations to conduct mass surveillance, steal national and trade secrets, or use it for other nefarious purposes.
Utilitarianism would mean that by refusing to build these back doors, Apple was acting ethically, as by not building the backdoor they were ensuring the security, and therefore happiness of a greater number of people. In addition to this, the overall likelihood of being affected by a terrorist attack or a crime case is low for many people; therefore, their major concern would be data security.
In the United States, and many countries across the world, the right to free speech is highly prized. There is precedent to suggest that code is legally protected speech. By asking Apple to write code to get in the backdoor, it is being compelled to say something against its wishes. Therefore, according to deontological ethical theories, the FBI was acting unethically by violating the right to free speech.
FBI – Just give us the key?
Should governmental policing bodies such as the FBI be allowed access to our mobile devices and data?
We live in a world where approximately 4.68 billion people have a mobile phone. This digitalisation of our daily lives has created a catalogue of data on any individual or group and this data can be used to save lives.
The purpose of law enforcement agencies is to prevent the breaking of the law, to protect citizens from harm, and to prevent crime and disorder. In a digital age, digital resources are needed in order to facilitate this.
Allowing access to vital data enables the protection of the people both immediately in relevant cases and through the implementation of long-term security measures, like counter-terrorism. It can therefore be argued that providing this data is ethically justified through Utilitarianism.
By way of example, the Paris attacks of 2015 were conducted and orchestrated by mobile phone; had the police had access to the information from their mobiles, as requested, the attacks would most likely have been prevented and 130 lives saved. This demonstrates the immediate applications of how mobile data can be used to save lives.
If you were in a situation where your life could be saved if the police had access to another’s mobile device, would you want them to do so? In Kantian ethics, the principle of categorical imperative would mean that if you would want this, then the FBI would be justified in also having access to your mobile data to save another’s life.
Privacy is one of the primary reasons given for withholding such data and yet this privacy can be maintained and even bolstered whilst also allowing access to mobile devices.
Currently the authorities only require a warrant to obtain the phone itself, but not required to access the data on it. Privacy could be strengthened by requiring a warrant to access a person’s data. This would ensure that the data is accessed only when necessary, ensuring no abuse of the system.
If it were required that the authorities had to enlist Apple’s assistance in accessing the phone data, rather than them knowing the specific method of bypassing the encryption, then this would prevent unauthorised access and therefore avoid exploitation and abuse of power. By offering a legal, monetary reward, this essentially condoned and promoted the act of cyber hacking. As a result, there was an increase in global iPhone hacking attempts. Once the data had been obtained, it was then passed through multiple parties resulting in increased violation of privacy. Had Apple allowed the FBI access to the data in the first place there would have been minimal exposure to private information and a reduced incentive to hack iPhones.
Upon reviewing these points, we agree with Apple’s decision not to help the FBI through the ‘backdoor’.