Apple vs. FBI: Questions on Digital Security Still up in the Air

The Apple vs. FBI case has finally closed.

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The six-week battle between the FBI and Apple over customer security came to an unspectacular end this week with neither opponent able to claim a perfect ‘victory.’

What remains are a series of troubling questions over the obligations global tech companies have to their customers versus international law enforcement’s demands for a freer hand in their investigatory measures.

This latest episode in the face-off between Apple and the FBI began on Monday 28 March US time.

Investigators announced that they had found their own way to break into the phone of Syed Farook, a suspect in the San Bernadino terrorist attack, shot dead in a police shootout.

In mid-February, the United States Justice Department issued a court order demanding that the tech giant build a ‘back door’ to access data in Farook’s phone.

Apple refused to co-operate arguing that building technology designed to hack encryption was a violation of public trust.

CEO Tim Cook further responded with an open letter that slammed the government over the order that he said, would set a dangerous precedent if carried out.

This kind of technology could become a destructive force in the wrong hands, Cook argued.

The news of the FBI’s breakthrough came on the eve of a hearing over the dispute by a magistrate. But the judge never the got the chance to rule on the issue.

This very public fight has sparked a major debate that has serious implications for the way governments regulate and manage the digital space globally.

Once the FBI got access to Farook’s iPhone, the Justice Department dropped their case.

The web now abounds with theories that speculate over the methods the hacker used (as well as the possible identity of the hacker). But more importantly, there is much speculation that the whole affair was stage-managed.

In the USA tension between tech companies and lawmakers has been on a high for years.

From the start, the FBI pleaded that they needed Apple to get into Farook’s phone. Since it turned out, they did not need Apple after all. Speculators in the space have suggested that the Justice Department case was a way to bring the encryption debate into the court of public opinion.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 4.30.08 pmIn the end, Apple did not back down. But now there exists a method to hack their encryption.

This very public fight has sparked a major debate that has serious implications for the way governments regulate and manage the digital space globally.

Some commentary has suggested that the outcome of the ‘Apple vs. the FBI’ situation will compel both sides to review their respective positions.

But it could have the opposite effect.

Law enforcement may continue to seek extraordinary orders to gain access to data as tech companies are forced to build stronger security on their devices in order to maintain consumer confidence.