Security v. Privacy: Does One Always Compromise The Other?

by Ashley George – On December 2, 2015 a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California left 14 people dead and another 22 injured.  The attack came to end by way of an armed confrontation between the shooters and police resulting in the death of both attackers. Investigations quickly began into identifying the two suspects. The man was identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, an American-born US citizen of Pakistani decent, and the woman was Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani-born legal permanent resident. It was also revealed that the couple was married and had become radicalized over several years prior to the attack, consuming “poison on the internet” and expressing a commitment to jihadism and martyrdom in private messages to each other. Farook and Malik had also traveled to Saudi Arabia in the years before the attack.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Katz v. United States, which established our basic legal understanding of reasonable expectations of privacy, we have been continuously trying to adapt the privacy rights protected by the Fourth Amendment to keep up with the fast pace of technological innovations. Recently, the FBI requested that global tech giant Apple Inc. aid them in disabling a security feature on Farook’s iPhone in order to gather the information from the phone in hope that it may give leads into who Farook and Malik’s connections were within the Islamic State (ISIS). Apple’s response was a resounding “NO” so, at the request of the Department of Justice, a federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to comply with the FBI’s request. Apple, however is standing firm.

September 11, 2001, brought about not only tragedy but also a massive change in how the U.S. dealt with national security. In response to those attacks, Congress hastily passed the Patriot Act and created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under the Patriot Act, the National Security Agency (NSA) began data-monitoring of cell phone calls and text messages. But in May of 2015 a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s telephone metadata collection program was, in fact, illegal.

So this battle between privacy and security continues. Apple is standing firm in their stance refusing to disable the security features on Farook’s phone. Apple does so claiming that to create a program that allows Apple to get back door access into a person’s phone is not only creating a back door for Apple and the FBI, but for hackers and everyone else with good or bad intentions. That is not a risk Apple is willing to take. Apple is known for its security as very few know the programing of Apple software, which makes Apple products more difficult to hack in comparison to competitors such as Microsoft.

Cyber security has been a growing field that continues to have increasing importance in keeping our information safe and out of the wrong hands; even more so due to the increasing use of “cloud” storage systems such as Apple iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive. But despite this desire to keep our personal information safe there is also strong push back against how far government organizations can go without violating the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. In Riley v. California the Court ruled that a warrant was required to search the cell phone of a person who has been arrested. Apple clearly believes in that fundamental right, if their message to Apple customers has anything to say about their position on the matter.

It is difficult to decide who is right in this situation. On one hand we want the FBI to be able to collect all the data that they need to get more information about the recent terrorist attack if it could lead to more insight into ISIS or link to someone directly in the ISIS ranks. On the other hand, many would feel uneasy about Apple creating a program that has the ability to diminish, if not destroy, the integrity of the security of our iPhones and other Apple products that store personal information. Hopefully one day a balance can be met and privacy and security with no longer be at conflict.

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