Apple's rejection of FBI demand right

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and technology giant Apple, which makes iPhones, are engaged in a tussle involving important questions about the rights of the state and the right to privacy of individuals. The dispute is over the de-encryption of an iPhone used by terrorist Syed Rizvan Farook and his wife Tasfeen Malik who shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino last December. The FBI, which is investigating the case, wants Apple to help it unlock vital information which it thinks is concealed in the iPhone. It has no access to that information without the pass code which is not available because Farook is dead. The data is encrypted in the iPhone in such a way that it will be erased if a wrong pass code is used more than 10 times. The FBI wants Apple to give it a code which will circumvent this self-destructing mechanism. But Apple has refused to do so because it says it will set a bad precedent.

While the FBI has presented it as issue of national security, Apple has seen it as an issue of digital security. The FBI has taken legal measures against Apple which the tech giant is contesting. Apple has also charged that the FBI is trying to pressure it in many other ways to give it access to the data. But the company has rightly taken it to be an issue of the right to privacy of the citizens who use the phone. If Apple gives the FBI the technical means to read the data in Farook’s phone, the agency may use it later in other phones. It can be stolen or leaked. That will make all iPhones vulnerable. Illegal surveillance of phones was rampant in the US, as Edward Snowden’s revelations showed. There may also be demands from governments in other countries to give them the wherewithal to access phones. Some of them may be authoritarian and may not even have legally laid down rules and procedures to access information about individuals. Citizens also may not be able to resort to legal or other measures to protect their rights.

Major technology companies like Google and Microsoft have supported Apple in the matter. Data security is a key principle of the digital world and all technology companies are committed to it. It is a business requirement too. The outcome of the battle will have major implications for the issues involved in it. How-ever, it should be noted that Apple has not been dubbed ‘anti-national’ by the US government or the FBI.

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