Should you care about protecting the data on your cellphone? What about the data on the phone of a terrorist? One technology powerhouse cares strongly about this issue and is even willing to go to (metaphorical) blows with the United States Government over the result.

On December 14th, 2015, two shooters carried out an attack in San Bernardino, California. Over two months later, the FBI still has not been able to access the data located on the phones of the attackers. The FBI was able to obtain the phones and was even given permission by the attackers’ employer to search them. So what is the issue? The iPhone only allows a user 10 attempts at accessing the contents of the phone before it automatically erases all of the content on the phone.

Therefore, the FBI has obtained a court order directing Apple to assist the FBI in cracking the phones. One not familiar in the technology behind the popular smartphone would imagine that Apple could simply take the phone and unlock it for the FBI. However, according to Apple, the task is not so simple. The company argues that once a phone is locked, only the user or someone who knows the user’s password can unlock that device. Apple maintains that they have never created “back door” software that would allow the company access to a customer’s phone and have made it clear that they do not intent to create such a program.

In an open letter released on February 17th, 2016, Tim Cook released a letter explaining why, despite the court order, it has refused to comply and create the software necessary to access the locked iPhone. The letter explains that data encryption is imperative to protect all of the personal data located on our phones. It also explains that if Apple were to comply with the court order and create the software requested, then all iPhones could be at risk of being breached. If the program somehow fell into the wrong hands, then conceivably anyone who had access to any iPhone would be able to access the content of that iPhone without the consent of the owner. The user would essentially have a master key with no restrictions over its use.

Apple acknowledges that it has complied with all other subpoenas related to the matter and strongly maintains that this move is with the utmost respect for the FBI and the federal government. It will be up for the Government and the courts to decide how important these ideals really are in the face of a national threat.

Ricky Hernandez

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