University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content
Official UB news and information for the media

Apple both a winner and loser after FBI gets into iPhone, UB cyberlaw expert says

Public now sees that the iPhone is vulnerable in some sense, Mark Bartholomew says

Release Date: March 30, 2016

“Apple might have won the battle in court, but there is a public relations concern now. Apple took a very robust public stand showing their brand was about privacy and now we have a very public exposing of the basic fact that iPhones aren’t Swiss bank accounts. Information can be exposed and that calls their brand into question a bit.”
Mark Bartholomew, professor of law
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – On the bright side, Apple was not forced to make their engineers write code that would allow the FBI to break into their devices.

On the downside, though, a third party was able to get into Apple’s iPhones, showing the world these devices are vulnerable, says Mark Bartholomew, University at Buffalo professor of law.

“Apple might have won the battle in court, but there is a public relations concern now,” says Bartholomew, who studies encryption and cyberlaw. “Apple took a very robust public stand showing their brand was about privacy and now we have a very public exposing of the basic fact that iPhones aren’t Swiss bank accounts. Information can be exposed and that calls their brand into question a bit.”

While Bartholomew says he does not expect a sudden sales crash, there will likely be a public relations fallout.

When Apple came out so strongly in favor of privacy against the FBI it was more than just based on principle, he says. It was a business strategy.

“There is no mistaking the fact that Apple was opposed to the FBI’s goals, but now we have to wonder just how vulnerable these phones are,” he says. “For a company that spent the last month or so talking about their brand being all about privacy, there will be some questioning of that.”

Other questions remain, too, after the government officially withdrew from its battle against Apple Monday. The Justice Department withdrew its legal action against Apple after a third party was able to gain access into the iPhone used by Syed Farook, who carried out the shooting in San Bernardino.

There is still the larger debate between personal privacy and national security.

“Congress will likely weigh in on this larger question, and that is a good thing,” he says. “Congress is in the best position to weigh the differences between privacy and security, rather than take it on a case-by-case basis. Congress is more likely to weigh in now than before this occurred.”

As far as Apple’s potential next move? Bartholomew says the company doesn’t have much of a legal leg to stand on in terms of finding out how the third party gained access to the iPhone.

While Apple can claim they are trying to protect against bad actors and identity theft, he says, the FBI will say this is a security need.

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