The debate over privacy and security between tech companies and the government is playing out in public yet again. Without naming Apple specifically, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested this week in comments reported by The Washington Examiner that the company’s position on strong encryption may cost lives. Rosenstein’s comments follow reports that the recent church shooter in Texas used an iPhone that may not be accessible by the government.
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The second-highest ranking official at the Department of Justice argues that ‘no reasonable person’ believes authorities shouldn’t be able to access the shooter’s phone:
“When you shoot dozens of innocent American citizens, we want law enforcement to investigate your communications and stored data,” Rosenstein said Thursday, adding, “‘There are things that we need to know.”
“As a matter of fact, no reasonable person questions our right to access the phone. But the company that built it claims that it purposely designed the operating system so that the company cannot open the phone even with an order from a federal judge,” Rosenstein said, lamenting only maybe “eventually” will federal investigators be able to access Kelley’s phone.
In addition to costing “a great deal of time and money,” Rosenstein said a delay “surely costs lives.”
The issue is more complex than simply allowing authorities access to one bad guy’s iPhone. Apple cannot build back doors in its software for government and ensure every other customer’s data is kept private, the company argues.
The debate certainly didn’t start under the Trump administration. Apple publicly defended its position while acknowledging the complexity of the issue last year when the FBI requested access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone during the Obama administration.
While that case was never fully tested by the legal system, it’s possible we may see a similar episode in the future. In the case of the Texas shooter, it was reported that the FBI may have missed its window to easily access the shooter’s iPhone. Apple responded to the report by saying that it proactively contacted the FBI to help offer any assistance possible.