Imagine a house with a popular top-of-the-line security system that requires a special entry key and has a guard dog stalking the perimeter. Inside is information that could help put away a syndicate of criminals.
The owner of the house has died, and nobody can find the key.
The security company doesn’t have the key or a way to override the system to allow the government access to the house.
The government can’t get into the house by using brute force or technology and wants the security company to create a master “skeleton key” to unlock this house. But it would also potentially unlock any house with the same security system.
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The security company says no. The government tries to use a 227-year-old law, the All Writs Act, to make the company comply.
The security company says no again and cites the 225-year old First Amendment as protection.
Should the government be granted access for the sake of common security, or should the security company continue to refuse to make the key for the sake of individual security?
Which security has more value? Which one helps the greater good? And which law from the 1700s holds more water in this fight?
These complicated questions need nuanced answers, and Apple and the FBI are about to get some.
Apple is playing the part of the security company, the FBI is the government and a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone is the house — and the world watches.
Apple and the FBI made compelling arguments before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The FBI says it only wants to get rid of the guard dog, not get a skeleton key. Apple basically says there isn’t really a difference.
The scenario got even more complicated during more than four hours of questioning of FBI Director James Comey, Apple Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bruce Sewell, Professor of Cybersecurity Policy Susan Landau and New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Each element of testimony seemed to add more nuance, bringing even more complexity to the already incredibly complicated problem.
Metaphor aside, the FBI is asking for too broad of a solution for a narrow question.
As much as Americans want the FBI to do its its job to keep America safe, compelling Apple to create software to unlock this phone is too great a risk for an unknown reward.
This case probably won’t have an answer short of a Supreme Court decision.