By Michaela Carrieri
Ever since the invention of the telephone in 1876, people have been able to communicate quicker and more efficiently than ever. Over time the telephone helped long distance relationships with friends and family stay strong, then a new type of telephone was created. On June 29, 2007, the first iPhone was released. This type of telephone was vastly different than any other version. The phone rapidly transformed into a photo storage device, a text message machine, and a social media platform among many other things. The iPhone kept evolving with a better and newer version about every year. Now, the iPhone can hold every owner’s secrets protected with just a simple, customized password.
The customized password on iPhones started to become an issue in 2014. During that year, Apple, the manufacturer of the iPhone, created an encryption system for the phones so they can only unlock by typing in a specific password. Since the establishment of cell phone passwords, it became even harder for Apple to bypass the phone user’s security. The password created a safe haven, even for criminals.
Since 2016, Apple has had disputes with the F.B.I. about the necessity of unlocking a person of interest’s iPhone. Unlocking an iPhone is not a simple process to do. A court order is necessary for Apple to unlock a person’s phone. In 2016, a federal judge ordered Apple to unlock a phone that a man owned who, with his wife, shot 14 people in San Bernardino, California. The response to the court order was made by Apple’s chief executive who stated that unlocking an iPhone because of a court order would create, in a sense, a backdoor which could put every iPhone owner’s security at risk.
Now, in 2020, the F.B.I. again asked Apple to unlock two iPhones that were owned by a gunman who was involved in a naval base shooting in December 2019 in Pensacola, Florida. The unlocking of the phones will either help prove or disprove that Lieutenant Alshamrani is the Saudi Air Force trainee that shot and killed three sailors. The F.B.I. does have a search warrant for the two cell phones, but they will need the aid from Apple to unlock the phones to conduct a search for any evidence involving the killings.
The issue remains whether or not Apple should grant the government access to people’s personal information. Though it seems that Apple is not doing the right thing when the F.B.I. is asking for passwords to phones of criminals, there is a dilemma. Would people, in general, want the government to have access to all of their information without them authorizing it? Should the government establish a law that cell phone manufacturing companies need to comply with the government when there is reason to believe that a cell phone has evidence of a person committing an illegal act?
At the moment, there is no law that states Apple (or any other cell phone company) needs to allow governmental authorities to gain access to locked devices. It would be a difficult decision to make in regard to codifying a law. On one hand, criminals are capable of getting away with more illegal acts when the evidence of that act is on their locked phone, but if the government is allowed to access anyone’s locked phone, then people’s privacy rights are being taken away. The Amendments are the backbone of this country, and the 4th Amendment was enacted to protect the legal right to privacy from unlawful searches and seizures. Taking away a person’s fundamental right to privacy is immoral and has been deemed so by various courts. Though it would be quick and easy to take away a criminal’s rights, it would not just be criminal’s rights that would be given up in this situation if a law is enacted. The bigger picture is what matters. It could easily be stated that Apple is in the wrong, but Apple is thinking about the bigger picture and the F.B.I. is focusing on the immediate need. The best way for this issue to be resolved is for not just a court order from a judge to unlock a phone, but to have a panel of judges weigh the probability on how much evidence can be gained by unlocking a person’s phone and the importance of such evidence. It would be fair to say that there should be no access to locked phones and Apple should not give anyone access, but that would also make committing crimes and getting away with it that much easier.
Student Bio: Michaela Carrieri is in her second year at Suffolk University of Law School. She is an active member of the Journal of High Technology. She went to her undergraduate school at High Point University in North Carolina and studied International Business and Italian. She now resides in her home state of Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.