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iPhone Privacy and the Law

If you keep up with legal trends and court decisions that affect essential liberties you may already be familiar with the long battle between Apple and the federal government. The Electronic Privacy Information Center ( is usually the best resource that you can go to for information on civil liberties pertaining to the Internet and they have been covering this back and forth between Apple and the FBI for quite awhile now. The case began when the FBI asked Apple to unlock a shooter’s iPhone and the company tried to refuse the government’s request. They eventually found a way to hack into the phone without Apple’s assistance. At the time, the issue with Apple was not a privacy concern (for Apple) but that the company would be required to perform for the government. For civil liberty groups it was just another occasion where the government is able to stampede over the 4th and 5th amendments. Predictably, law enforcement sides with the government, lawyers and companies side with Apple.

Over the summer the issue heated up when Apple received another request, this time for a drug dealer’s iPhone and the government argued that Apple should not be allowed to refuse because they had assisted in the past. Apple’s previous assistance makes their privacy stance rather problematic, as the millennials would say, and is possibly why the company has come out strong with new encryption technology that would both prevent Apple from having to perform for the government and protect people from having to incriminate themselves. As many of you may or may not know, fingerprint encryption is not covered under the 5th Amendment.

The rule of thumb, pun intended, is that your fingerprint is akin to your likeness and does not reveal anything of your mind. It is just a biometric indicator whereas a pincode or password is does. The new complexities of technology has met with the post-911 hysteria to create the type of legal hand waving that most judges, to be fair, are not prepared for. Law school does not make one a computer expert by default.

Apple’s response to the government’s ruling on fingerprint security has been to alter how they address privacy and the company has recently upgraded its iPhone security systems and made a statement through their website. The last sentence of the statement says it all:

For all devices running iOS 8 and later versions, Apple will not perform iOS data extractions in response to government search warrants because the files to be extracted are protected by an encryption key that is tied to the user’s passcode, which Apple does not possess.

As you can see, the company has found away to remove itself from future demands of the government, while at the same time still providing emergency location assistance and other help of an imminent nature. It is both relieving its conscience and its legal liability. It is a “use at your own risk” statement and a “I got nothing ta do with it” combo that will at least—temporarily—take themselves out of the process for new phones.

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