All Arguments Considered

An Editorial on Apple V. FBI

By Erin Broomell | Copy Editor

The picture on the television is a split screen. On one half, President Obama addresses a crowd in Havana, Cuba. On the other half, there is an image of violent wreckage, a stream of blood trickling through broken glass, a person shuffling through a dark and empty metro station. It looks like a scene from one of the Borne franchise films. It’s actually something much less glamorous: first-hand accounts of the March 22 Brussels terrorist attack, shot from victims’ cell phones.

In recent years, cell phones have become the infallible eye-witnesses in investigations of terroristic crimes. In the weeks since Apple CEO Tim Cook first appealed to customers via public letter for support regarding the company’s tussle with the FBI, the letter’s content has become the talking points of news makers everywhere. Opinions of whether or not Apple should comply with the federal government in the San Bernardino terrorist attack has been peppered in amongst commentary regarding one of the most divisive presidential campaigns of recent generations. Candidates have weighed-in. Clinton and Sanders feel both Apple and the FBI have a legitimate argument in the matter. Cruz and Trump side with the FBI. Trump called for a boycott of Apple until they complied, then proceeded to Tweet from his iPhone.

Despite their noncommittal approaches, candidates like Trump and Sanders (hard to believe they could fall into the same category) have a common ground with Apple in that their appeals to U.S. citizens in their fight against “big brother” were poignant pieces of strategy. However, it isn’t working for one of them. I don’t mean the candidates.

The populist candidates are making history by challenging and even dominating would-be shoe-in nominees like Clinton and Jeb Bush (who was originally expected to win the nomination). Perhaps populism’s come-back is what compelled Apple to appeal to the masses. However, the company’s strategy is, at the least, risky. Has Tim Cook seen the republican debates? Anti-terrorist rhetoric is peppered into any issue which arises. And on the democratic side a strong push for gun control persists. Apple has found itself on the weak side of an arm wrestling match.

This is not to say Apple can’t win, nor is it to say they are wrong. In fact, the issue confirms the concerns former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina raised. Anyone remember her? Fiorina repeatedly called out the Fed for their lack of technological savants and their dependence on the compliance of private companies for access to the top minds of the technology field; the larger issue that the Apple v FBI argument circumvents.

Experts doubt Apple’s strategy. Apple argument is based from the Supreme Court case Bernstein v. Department of Justice, a court case that established that code is speech. Apple argues that by forcing Apple to design a program, the FBI is telling Apple what to ‘say’ and that violates their First Amendment rights. However, there are many cases when the government has told corporations what to say: nutrition facts printed on the side of food packages, medicinal labels and warnings printed on cigarette packages – to name a familiar few.

The evidence begs the question: if the arguments are flimsy and the timing is poor, why engage in such a public battle? Perhaps because the company views this as the only way to push the federal government to invest in technology like China and Japan have. Whichever side you support, it’s easy to get behind apple when their argument is viewed from the perspective of ending government reliance on privatized companies and the government enabling itself to act independently when investigating terroristic acts. Then, in the end, when it comes down to investigating terrorist attacks in Western Europe, the U.S. government can better assist and private companies like Apple can be left to do what they do best: innovate technological security.