Published April 1, 2016
The showdown is over: For weeks, the U.S. Department of Justice and Apple engaged in what some media called the “crypto wars,” with the government demanding that the computer giant hack the iPhone of a shooter involved in last year’s San Bernardino attack. Now, however, the FBI has gained access to the smartphone without Apple’s help.
So is that good news for the tech industry? Did Apple come out ahead?
Yes and no, says UB expert Mark Bartholomew, who studies encryption and cyberlaw.
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 Bartholomew, a professor of law.
“Apple might have won the battle in court, but there is a public relations concern now,” Bartholomew says. “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 the tech firm after a third party was able to gain access into the iPhone used by Syed Farook, who carried out the shooting in San Bernardino.)
For example, 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,” Bartholomew 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.”