Since mid-February, there has been an ongoing debate in the public sphere regarding the high profile case that found the global IT giant Apple and FBI on opposite sides of the legal spectrum.
The case's background involves the 2015 San Bernardino shooting incident in USA, and the fact that one of the perpetrators was in possession of an iPhone potentially containing relevant information for the ensuing investigation. However, having in mind the phone's security features which prevent anyone from accessing the phone's contents without the correct passcode, FBI claimed it was impossible for them to access it without enlisting the help of the phone's manufacturer. The FBI then proceeded to demand that Apple allow them access to the phone, with Apple rejecting the request by claiming how the kind of encryption used on their iPhones is made in such a way that prevents even themselves from having direct access to the user's data, meaning that in order to comply with FBI's request, a whole new kind of an operative system would have to be developed for the purpose of gaining backdoor entrance to the perpetrator's phone.
This is where one of the two main issues in this case can be found since, according to Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, developing such a software tool would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in somebody's possession, and that despite the government's argument of this action being a one-time occurrence, there is no way to guarantee it – seeing as how the tool itself would then be in existence with the potential of being misused. Cook further claimed that, in doing so, the American government is asking Apple to hack into their own users, effectively sabotaging decades of work invested into developing sophisticated security solutions whose main mission was to rightfully protect the privacy of tens of millions of people around USA and the rest of the world.
Another argument brought forth by the IT giant concerns the dangers of introducing a judicial precedent that would order the company to comply with the FBI's request. As outlined by Bruce Sewell, Apple's General Counsel, the USA is the first country that has filed such a request, but in case the Court rules in favour of it, chances are it will not be the last. Furthermore, according to a number of technology analysts and privacy experts, there is a significant risk of a slippery slope situation where it would only be a matter of time before other countries make similar demands of Apple, calling upon the precedent in question for legal grounding.
On the other hand, the FBI has decisively maintained that this case is not about setting a legal precedent, but primarily about further investigating the shooting incident and its potentially far-reaching implications. James Comey, the FBI's director, has pointed out that there is an increasing number of cases that have significant evidence residing on a phone, tablet, or lap top, all of it possibly able to decide whether an offender would be convicted or acquitted. Comey proceeded to oppose Tim Cook's 'backdoor' creating description of the FBI's request, instead claiming that there is already a door on every iPhone as on any other device of its kind, and that the government is only asking Apple to remove their 'vicious guard dog' from it.
In the meantime, as media attention on the case grew wider, some high profile personalities and companies have chimed in on the issue, including Warren Buffet and Edward Snowden, as well as companies including some of Apple's main competitors. While Buffet chose not to pick sides in this particular debate, he opined that national security should supersede privacy concerns when it comes to major issues, illustrating his stance by exploring the hypothetical possibility of having the catastrophe of 9/11 averted through hacking someone's smartphone device. Snowden however, expressed his doubts about the FBI initially being unable to hack into the iPhone without Apple's assistance, attributing the whole affair to a potential hidden agenda.
Moreover, when it comes to the stances brought forth by other companies, Samsung spokespeople refrained from publicly supporting their rival, although they have issued a statement acknowledging the overall extreme importance of respecting customers' privacy first. Other companies including, among others, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon were much more open in their support by unitedly submitting amicus briefs endorsing Apple's arguments to the court, at the same time further showing the gravity of the issue at stake for the future of technology companies everywhere.
Finally, if we were to look at this issue from the perspective of its relevance for the Balkan region, the possibility of a slippery slope effect presents the most probable implication. If a precedent is indeed made, and no clear way of balancing the weight of arguments between national security and personal privacy is introduced, companies (both domestic and international) manufacturing IT devices would be submitted to governing bodies in a decidedly more rigorous manner than before, potentially triggering a worldwide debate of historical significance on the topic of personal data protection issues.