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In 2016, the FBI and Apple fought over privacy rights when the agency requested that the computer company provide background access to a cell phone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists in a December 2015 attack that killed fourteen people and injured twenty-two others. Apple declined the FBI's request for access, saying that it would jeopardize the security of all of its customers. Which side are you on? Is there a middle ground?

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The FBI and Apple both made important points during their 2016 debate over privacy rights after a terrorist attack, yet there may be some middle ground here that could be useful in the future. I'll review the facts of the conflict and the claims of both sides so you can...

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The FBI and Apple both made important points during their 2016 debate over privacy rights after a terrorist attack, yet there may be some middle ground here that could be useful in the future. I'll review the facts of the conflict and the claims of both sides so you can better determine your opinion about the case.

This issue arose after Syed Farook shot fourteen people to death in December of 2015. The FBI wanted to unlock Farook's iPhone to try to discover more facts about the shooting and about Farook. A judge requested that Apple provide "reasonable technical assistance" to the FBI to recover the data. Apple refused on the grounds that the company would have to develop a new "master key" software to override the locking feature and that this could lead to potential misuse, abuse, and lack of security in the future. The FBI actually got a third party to unlock the phone.

Let's look at the valid points on both sides of the conflict. The FBI needed the data to investigate a serious crime—a terrorist attack, in fact—and possibly to help prevent further attacks. It had no plans to ask Apple for continual help in this regard. Apple worried that one time of cooperation could lead to many more such requests and that those requests would lead to a lack of data security for its customers.

That said, though, since the FBI was able to get a third party to unlock the phone, Apple's security doesn't seem to be quite as good as the company thinks it is, and perhaps it would have been better to cooperate, develop its own method of accessing the data, and then keep that method secure.

Now, let's think about a possible middle ground. Since this was a terrorism case, Apple might have agreed to help, provided that such requests would be made only in like situations or when other extremely serious crimes had been committed. An agreement could have been made to that effect to be enforced, perhaps, through the mediation of a judge. This would have allowed the FBI to get the data it needed and still kept the vast majority of Apple's clients secure in their data.

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