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When it comes to Apple vs. FBI, Congress likely to step in and lay down the law, UB cyberlaw expert says

Privacy vs. security clash also a public relations battle for Apple, Mark Bartholomew says

Release Date: February 19, 2016

“This is different than previous situations when law enforcement was given tools to find information or open up some sort of structure or physical location. If they need to get into an apartment, they tell the landlord to open the door. But in this case, the key doesn’t exist. Apple is being forced to create the key and that is a more invasive requirement for private companies. This is something different.”
Mark Bartholomew, professor of law
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Justice Department has asked Apple to help it break into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooter suspects. Apple has fought back.

But this battle is about much more than just unlocking a single cell phone, says Mark Bartholomew, University at Buffalo professor of law.

“This is different than previous situations when law enforcement was given tools to find information or open up some sort of structure or physical location,” says Bartholomew, who studies encryption and cyberlaw. “If they need to get into an apartment, they tell the landlord to open the door. But in this case, the key doesn’t exist. Apple is being forced to create the key and that is a more invasive requirement for private companies. This is something different.”

And because of that difference, Bartholomew says, it is likely Congress will end up stepping in and creating a law to address a major debate that has been bubbling up for quite some time: personal privacy vs. national security.

The government wants a way to access data on personal gadgets, even when devices use encryption to keep them private. The Silicon Valley-Capitol Hill clash depends a lot on public opinion, Bartholomew says, and whether privacy is valued more than security.

As Apple takes a stand for privacy, an event like Paris or San Bernardino can sway public opinion, he says. That is why it is likely Congress will step in.

“The law is silent on this thing and if I had to bet, I think we will see Congress take the initiative and pass a law filling that silence,” Bartholomew says. “That law will likely mandate tech companies to follow law enforcement and will put national security first.”

Though security issues are real, he says, it is a dangerous, slippery slope to compromise privacy.

“The big thing is we don’t know where information could end up,” Bartholomew says. “When should law enforcement have access to information and when should they not? If we require these backdoor security measures in the U.S., what about other countries? If Apple provides the key, what if it falls into the wrong hands? We have to really weigh the cost against whatever intelligence law enforcement might get in these kinds of situations, because a lot of questions are certainly raised.”

This is also a public relations battle, he says. Apple is a very public company and their brand carries an aura that is separate from the devices they make, Bartholomew says.

“I think Apple is battling to show everyone they are very concerned with your privacy rights,” he says. “This is a PR battle for the Apple brand and they want to win the hearts and minds of the public.”

To find UB faculty experts on other topics – including issues trending in the news – visit UB’s Faculty Experts website.

Media Contact Information

Rachel Stern
Associate Director of National/International Media Relations
Faculty Experts
Tel: 716-645-9069
rstern2@buffalo.edu