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Apple cites privacy concerns, resists government access to iPhone

February 18, 2016

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Essential question

In what ways do national security and individual privacy sometimes conflict?


A legal battle between the makers of the iPhone and the U.S. government could set a major precedent for the issue of privacy vs. security.

Since December, when 14 people were killed at an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, the FBI has attempted to access the information locked inside the cellphone of Syed Farook, who was killed by police along with his wife Tashfeen Malik hours after their rampage.

The iPhone’s encryption features make it impossible to access the data inside it, some of which the FBI says could contain information about who Farook and Malik were talking to in the months leading up to the attack.

Now a California judge has ordered Apple, the makers of the iPhone, to create software allowing the FBI to access the phone. Apple rejected previous requests to help the FBI, fearing that allowing “backdoor” access to the phone would compromise the security of iPhones everywhere.

“In the wrong hands, this software, which doesn’t exist today, would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement addressed to customers Tuesday.

The government insists they only want access to Farook’s cellphone, not all iPhones.


Key terms

encryption – a technology that makes data secure; to read an encrypted file, a secret key or password is needed in order to decrypt it

slippery slope – the idea that one course of action will lead to something unacceptable, wrong or dangerous

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What types of security protections do cell phones have?
  2. Do most people you know use a password on their phones?
  3. In what instances might the government want information from an individual’s cell phone?
  4. Do you view privacy as an individual right?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why did a judge order Apple to create software that would unlock iPhones?
  2. Do you think Apple should abide by the Court’s decision and unlock the mobile phone in the San Bernardino case? Explain.
  3. Why are some security experts worried that unlocking the phone in the San Bernardino case will have greater repercussions regarding individual privacy rights?
  4. Do you think it is the civic duty of a business to help law enforcement when it comes to solving criminal cases?

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