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Feb. 18, 2016 — The faith of 700 million people

The iPhone is one of those once-in-a-lifetime gadgets that has altered lifestyles. It allows people to navigate without a folding map, read in the dark, take photos and videos and post them on social media instantaneously, write weblogs, and play games. Oh, and taking and receiving phone calls.

There are more than 700 million Apple iPhones in use today (disclosure: your Founder uses one). Many of the newer ones have strong encryption of the data that flows in and out of the phone — texts, voice mails, and emails. It’s become the industry standard, causing a flood of competing smartphone technologies.

But in the last few days, there has been a substantial policy debate today about Apple Computer and whether it can be compelled by the federal government to create a workaround for the encryption of the iPhone. The request comes in the wake of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. which killed 14 people.

Found amongst the shooters’ possessions was an iPhone owned by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Investigators have been looking into various aspects of the personal lives of alleged shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who were killed after their rampage. The phone is seen as a way to figure out who the shooters were in contact with.

That may be all well and good from an antiterrorism standpoint, but there are problems with the request by the government to unlock this particular device.

One, it’s amazing that the FBI didn’t just simply ask where Apple stores the four-digit passcodes for users. They have to be somewhere. The Department of Justice doesn’t need to have access to every single iPhone; just one.

Two, the reliance on the phone for evidence tells me that the FBI has hit a bit of a snag in its investigation of Farook and Malik. Seasoned investigators should have no problem in figuring out their associates without having to break into the phone. It makes me wonder if someone in the field office is trying to take the lazy way out in terms of investigative practices.

Three, being able to create a software break-in (or skeleton key, or backdoor) for the iPhone puts 700 million users and devices at risk from the very terrorism that the FBI is investigating. Imagine the overwhelming harm if ISIL is able to track Americans in Israel, or Tunisia, or Yemen, or Pakistan simply by accessing every iPhone on earth through the software break-in. All a terrorist with a satellite laptop and a rifle (with a scope) would have to do to kill as many Americans as possible is to access the transponder data.

Apple’s stand against the FBI comes in a peculiar time in American history. Apple entered 2016 as the most valuable public company in the world. It has influence and market share thanks to its users around the globe.

And, it seems, a backbone.

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