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Cell phones and the Constitution

This past month, Apple and the FBI have been at odds over the cell phone of one individual, Syed Rizwan Farook, better known as the San Bernardino killer.

Once he was taken into custody, the US government received a search warrant to investigate his iPhone, but were unable to unlock it. The FBI was unable to open it, and Apple has been unwilling to help, for good reason. Unfortunately, the FBI found a third party willing to help crack the iPhone. However, having Apple or any other third party help the US government fight national security threats and attacks can have devastating effects.

First, the Constitution guarantees every person a right to privacy through the Fourth Amendment, which reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper, and effect.”

A warrant can give the police that right to search if there is probable cause that there is evidence of the crime and/or a crime is happening. The police, however, can only search the specific place specified in the warrant, but this is near impossible when searching a phone. Because everything is interconnected on a phone, it is almost certain that police could stumble upon personal information such as credit card numbers, bills, pictures, etc.

Second, the FBI has asked to undo the encryption security on Farook’s phone to search it, essentially weakening the password protections. This would not only affect him and his privacy, but also every other person that has an iPhone.

When the anonymous third party handed over the secrets to weakening the protections of an Apple iPhone, there was no doubt that any criminal’s iPhone that’s in the FBI’s hands would be subject to a search of the most private and intimate parts of their lives, regardless of the crime committed. As Tim Cook said in its Open Letter to Our Customers, “Once, created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.”

This could ultimately hurt Apple’s business image. As Cook said, “For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your phone is none of our business.” However, if the FBI is capable of hacking into any iPhone, Apple users may switch to other phones that may be safer from the overreach of the FBI. If that happens, Apple could lose their front-runner status as the most popular phone and a large amount of revenue.

If the FBI uses this third party encryption breach, the US government would be setting a dangerous precedent. Apple users would be forced to relinquish their rights to privacy as guaranteed by the US Constitution, thus, becoming one of the most widespread breaches of the Constitution in the history of the United States.