Saturday, November 19, 2016

Apple: Refusing to Help The FBI Due to Privacy Concerns (2015-2016)

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. since 2011
In late 2015, Apple was instructed by the FBI to unlock an iPhone 5c belonging to Syed Farook (shown on the right), the man responsible, along with his wife, for a shooting in San Bernardino killing 14 and injuring an additional 22 people (Nakashima). Farook was found to be connected to an overseas terrorist organization, and the FBI believed that his iPhone could contain crucial information regarding the attack. This information is thought to include things such as his planning of the attack, who he was in contact with, and whether or not this attack in San Bernardino was connected to or aided by the terrorist organization overseas. However, each iPhone, including Farook's, has either a numerical or number/letter combination code required to unlock it. Both Farook and his wife were killed in a shootout with the police following the shooting, therefore rendering the FBI unable to unlock his iPhone, to gather what could be crucial information for the case. The FBI then went to Apple, the creator of the iPhone, requesting that they unlock the phone. Although the law states that Apple must comply, CEO Tim Cook politely refused the request, stating that:

“Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them,” it continued. “But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone” (Nakashima).

As Cook stated, Apple consider the creation of a "backdoor" into the iPhone too dangerous to create, because it would create a precedent to be mimicked, which could compromise the security of the iPhone. Apple intentionally created their security feature with the intention of only allowing the user, or whomever knows the pass-code, access and use of the phone.
The FBI, however, need this backdoor program to be created, because after just ten tries of entering an incorrect pass-code into an iPhone, all of its information is deleted. This prevents them from "brute-forcing" the task, by trying every combination of letters and numbers in order to eventually come across the pass-code of Farook's iPhone. It was suggested that this feature should be removed, but Apple are unable to do so. Even if it were to be removed, the it could take five or more years in order to crack a pass-code (Nakashima). This provokes a major controversy between government/protection and privacy.

Syed Farook, the man responsible for
the shooting in San Barnardino

It is very important to note the stakeholders of this controversy. The stakeholders might include (but are not limited to) the following people or groups of people.
Perhaps the most important stakeholders of this controversy, iPhone users are at risk of their security and privacy being compromised. Although many people claim not to have any personal information on their phones, this can lead to the compromise of information such as a home address, or a credit card number. The general American population is also a stakeholder in this controversy. Information found on Farook's iPhone could be used to prevent future attacks on American people. For similar reasons, the overseas terrorist organization is also a stakeholder in this controversy. Obviously we would hope that they are eradicated or set back from the information found. Apple itself is a major stakeholder in this situation as well. Due to their refusal to comply with the FBI, they are under scrutiny and could be punished as a result. Alternatively, the FBI is also a stakeholder. Whether or not Apple comply will be the deciding factor as to whether or not they are able to find the pass-code into Farook's iPhone and perhaps find valuable information regarding the attack and the terrorist organization.

Milton Friedman's theory of Individualism states that, "the only goal of business is to profit, so the only obligation that the business person has is to maximize profit for the owner or the stockholders" (Salazar, Power Point Presentations). From an individualist's point of view, Apple may or may not have to worry about the security of their users. If security is viewed purely as a separate feature of the iPhone, which would not affect the customer relationship or loyalty to the brand, Apple would not have to worry about the compromise of privacy, and would comply with the FBI. This is only if it is considered to not have an effect on how much profit the company is able to make. If the Individualist strongly values customer loyalty in the consideration of making profit, then the company would not be compliant to the FBI. Whichever way it is seen from the Individualist would determine how the company would react to this controversial situation; however they see they can make the most profit for the owner and stockholders in the company.

A protester at a rally in support of Apple’s refusal to help the FBI access the cell phone of the San Bernardino gunman.
Photograph protesting the FBI getting into private phones
Utilitarianism is the concept of maximizing the happiness of all conscious beings involved in any business transactions ("The Case Manual" 17). In a more general sense, Utilitarianism is about “maximizing the overall good” and focusing on making the largest amount of people happy; pleasing the stakeholders (DesJardins 33). From the Utilitarian perspective, I believe that Apple should find a way to give the FBI easier access to Farook's phone without compromising their users' privacy and security. However, this is much easier said than done. In this case, Apple could perhaps help the FBI crack the hardware key, as mentioned in the Washington Post, which would then make it possible for them to find the pass-code of the phone, though running all of the numbers and letters (Nakashima). In doing this, Apple would be able to uphold the privacy of their millions of users, while helping the FBI prevent future attacks on American people. This, in my opinion, would be the best way from a Utilitarian perspective to maximize the happiness and overall good of the situation.

Kantianism focuses more on acting ethical, as opposed to creating ethical outcomes for stakeholders. "The Case Manual" describes Kantianism as being about rational decision making, autonomy, and freedom. It suggests that , instead of lying to get your way, one should tell the truth and gain rational consent from all parties ("The Case Manual" 17). A Kantian would likely want Apple to continue to refuse to help the FBI unlock Farook's phone. Although the phone could contain some vital information for that case, it may not prevent any attacks in the future. However, unlocking Farook's iPhone will undermine the security of the millions of iPhone users. Because Kantianism is focused on creating ethical outcomes primarily, refusal to help the FBI would give the best ethical outcome. In this case, the millions of iPhone users could continue to trust that their iPhone information will continue to be private and secure, and Apple can work autonomously to continue to uphold these ethical standards held by the public. Though this does not help the Farook case, the FBI are still able to gain the pass-codes, just far slower. This could in fact take the FBI multiple years to obtain the pass-code, unless they were to use a supercomputer, of which there are only a few in the world. Overall, this would be by far the safest route in terms of the most ethical outcome.

Virtue Theory
Apple Inc. logo
Virtue Theory is the concept of judging ethical situations based on character traits and values. Although Apple are sometimes seen as being the user-friendly, ethical company to the average consumer's eye, they have run into many ethical controversies during their uprising. In fact, someone who knows more in depth about the history of Apple and perhaps even Steve Jobs would argue that they are not the nice group of people they appear to have been. A Virtue Theorist might argue that some of Apple's "character traits" would consist of manipulative and overpowering. These traits come from their problems spanning from giving Chinese manufacturers terrible working conditions, causing some cases of suicide in that factory, to charging average families hundreds of dollars for the newest iPhone. Many see these kind of actions as an abuse of power. Based on this analysis, a Virtue Theorist would perhaps argue that Apple should in fact comply with the FBI to improve their perceived character traits. However, it is well known that Apple have a high value of security and privacy of the average iPhone user. If Apple were to stick to their values, it could be argued that they should continue not to comply.
Looking at the FBI, the average American would probably like to think that they uphold very good "character traits" and values. The FBI is in place to protect the American people, and surely value protection over privacy and security. Overall, I believe that in terms of values and character traits, the FBI takes priority over Apple. Although Apple has millions of users, the FBI also protects the entire population of the United States, 300+ million people. In this case, Apple should comply with the FBI and help them find the pass-code to Farook's iPhone.

Justified Ethics Evaluation
Apple's actions in this case are justified and perfectly understandable. Understanding that Apple has spent years perfecting its privacy and security features on its products for their users to be safe is enough reason to at very least dispute requests from the FBI to undermine them. This case has really been a question of whether Apple should put its users at risk, and ensure the closing of Farook's case, or whether to keep Apple's iPhone users safe, and possibly take as much as ten years in order to gain information on Farook's case, perhaps withholding vital information for the FBI to ensure the safety of American citizens. In that case I believe that it is justified that both the FBI and Apple would want the outcome to favor them. 

Company Action Plan
Ethically, I believe that this dispute should be settled by a compromise, which, in my opinion, has not been strongly enough considered. Though it has been suggested, I believe that a compromise is the only way to give both sides a decent outcome. As aforementioned, I believe that the best way to do this is for Apple to help the FBI crack the hardware code, which would soon allow the FBI the ability to "brute force" the actual iPhone pass-code. Though this may take a long time, I do not think it is worth the compromise of iPhone users' security. Perhaps a mission statement in this action plan should be, "To provide safety, privacy and security, to the best of our ability". This statement captures both the idea of keeping iPhone users' information private, but also keeping them safe as is the goal of the FBI. I believe that the three main components of the mission statement also serve as perfect values for the situation. This being because safety, privacy and security, though similar concepts, are what most Americans care about most, and should be given to the best of our ability.
Although it will be tough to avoid this situation again, due to the growing popularity of iPhones, and the disturbing amount of violence in our country in recent years, this action plan would best be served as a new protocol for any time this is to happen again. I do not believe that this action plan would require any replacement or changes in faculty, as long as everyone from both Apple and the FBI are willing to work together.
This will hopefully allow Apple to market themselves as being ethical, and promoting of the safety of American citizens. This marketing would perhaps be beneficial to them financially by earning the trust of new customers, who perhaps do not have that same trust for other cell phone/technology companies. This in turn would hopefully gain Apple even more revenue and sales for compromising with the FBI.


DesJardins, Joseph R. An Introduction to Business Ethics. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. Print.

Lichtblau, Eric, and Katie Benner. "Apple Fights Order to Unlock San Bernardino Gunman’s IPhone." The New York 
     Times. The New York Times, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Nakashima, Ellen. "Apple Vows to Resist FBI Demand to Crack IPhone Linked to San Bernardino Attacks." Washington 
     Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual: The Authoritative Step-by-Step Guide to
     Understanding and Improving the Ethics of Any Business. Print.

Salazar, Heather. Power-Point Presentations.

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