The Current

Apple and FBI encryption battle pits privacy against security

The FBI wants access to encrypted contents on Syed Farook's iPhone, one of the San Bernardino killers. Apple is refusing to comply saying: to create a backdoor for one investigation would mean the door would never be closed again for anyone. The Current weighs security vs. privacy.
Apple's refusal to comply with FBI request to access San Bernadino shooter's communications is a line in the sand, says president of B2B News Network, Jen Evans. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
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People's privacy is protected. I don't want anybody willy-nilly going through my phone, or looking at my pictures of my children. But I also don't want to live in a country where the bad guys know there's a way for them to be absolutely beyond the law.- James  Comey , director of the FBI in an interview with 60 minutes

It's a battle of the Titans: Apple versus the FBI, and the stakes couldn't be higher. 

It starts with a dilemma for the FBI. The iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the attackers who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino, California, is locked.

The FBI wants to examine the iPhone to determine whether Farook and his wife had planned the shooting directly with the Islamic State. But the phone has a four digit security code, and  even with a search warrant, the FBI can't crack it. In fact, it's so strongly encrypted that even the manufacturer, Apple, says that it can't break in. 

Should Apple have to allow the FBI to access an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernadino shooters? (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

And when a federal judge ordered the tech giant to comply this week, its CEO Tim Cook drew a line in the sand, arguing that its customers should know that their data is private and secure. 

Cook said allowing access — even in this one case  — would have far-reaching implications. But White House press secretary Josh Earnest, disagreed.

We're not asking Apple to redesign its products or to create a new back door to its products. This is a much more specific request that the Department of Justice has put forward.- Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary

It's a delicate balance between security and privacy.

Guests in this segment:

  • David Skillicorn, professor of computing at Queen's University and the author of Knowledge Discovery for Counter-terrorism and Law Enforcement
  • Jen Evans, president of B2B News Network, a site for business-to-business news. 

What do you think of Apple's drawing the line on privacy? Are there instances when they should make an exception in the name of national security?

Send us an email. Comment on our Facebook page or tweet us @TheCurrentCBC.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Catherine Kalbfleisch.