During early June of 2013, infamous whistle blower Edward Snowden exposed the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) extensive surveillance program on not just suspicious persons, but everyday Americans.
Reportedly more than two hundred million text messages were accrued by the NSA and used to investigate the location and financial information of millions of Americans. The Patriot Act provisions, which allowed the NSA to conduct mass data collections, expired on the June of last year, however the question still remains: is it acceptable for the government to have access to our smartphones; and the data that comes with them.
Just recently on February 17, the FBI requested that tech company Apple “unlock” the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Farook killed 14 people and injured 22 with his wife, Tasheen Malik, in December 2015. Both attackers pledged allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, responded to the request saying to do so would be “an overreach by the U.S. government.” This however, is an overstatement. The order did not request for the overall break in of the encryption, but rather the disabling of a feature on the phone that wipes the data after ten failed attempts to unlock the phone. In addition, this order would be targeted specifically for the devices of the attackers.
By unlocking the shooter’s cell phone, the FBI would be able to gain vital information for possible future targets and locations, in addition to contacts whom they were communicating with. Many students believe that the government should be granted this limited access. “Your cellphone is your property. If the government wants to look into your phone, they are going to need a reason. If it is suspected that the phone contains something that endangers the population, then the government has the right to step in and take a look at it,” said Sam Essenfeld (’19). By denying the Obama Administration access to the perpetrators’ phones, Apple is threatening national security and the overall protection of American citizens. “Although it can be viewed as a violation of our privacy, giving the government access to our phones can provide them important information to keep our nation safer,” said Shana Virtudes (’17). As citizens we should do our part in providing national safety, even if doing so requires sacrificing some part of our privacy.
In addition, if most citizens have nothing to hide, then to deny the government into public records of their cell phones would be purely selfish, an action taken without public safety in mind. “I have nothing to hide from the government, so there is no reason for me to be scared of them gathering any of my information,” said Robin Lopez (’17).
The fight for tougher decryption measures is still underway as numerous government officials are voice their opinion. Regardless of whether the government can access our smartphones, some things remain true. ISIS, among other terrorist groups, is an increasing threat to American safety.
As a society, we need to accept the idea of the government looking into our cell phones and data with concern for the overall security of the nation in mind.