On December 2nd, 2015, a married couple opened fire in a rented banquet room in San Bernardino, California. In the aftermath, it became clear that the shooting was an act of terrorism, but at the time, no one could have predicted that the situation would lead to a heated dispute between Apple and the FBI.
Following a failed attempt to unlock the attacker’s iPhone, the United States Justice Department demanded that Apple provide the means to get inside the phone. More specifically, the FBI wants Apple to produce an iOS software that will breach key security features on any iPhone.
The software requested by the FBI allows any user to unlock an iPhone in their physical possession. Apple refused this demand almost immediately, and publicly announced that it will never breach the privacy of its customers.
While this may be comforting to many Americans, there are presumably other motivations behind Apple’s decision. Particularly, Apple has a huge business incentive to protect privacy, which has given the Justice Department reason to denounce the company. The Department of Justice believes that Apple’s refusal is “based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy,” rather than legal rationale.
Apple is the world's largest information technology company by revenue. The company has maintained a high level of brand loyalty, and is the first U.S. company to be valued at over $700 billion U.S. dollars. Privacy and security have become part of its brand, especially internationally, where two-thirds of its nearly $234 billion a year in sales are made.
China has recently become one of Apple’s biggest iPhone markets, second to America. However, this was not easily achieved. It took Apple six years to persuade China Mobile, the country’s largest wireless carrier, to finally sell the iPhone. When taking into account the efforts Apple has put into opening a market in China, as well as the abundant profits it is generating there today, Apple clearly has a huge incentive to keep China in check.
Hence, if Apple were to cooperate with the FBI’s demands, major problems may arise on the global stage. China would certainly be interested in obtaining such software, and Apple would have limited ability to control their use of it. As a brand that attracts many of its customers with its innovative safeguards and ensured privacy, this is a situation they want to avoid.
The major issue that concerns the majority of Americans, however, is their right to privacy. Many citizens have showed their support of Apple’s resistance via social media posts. Apple supporters have even held protests in cities such as San Francisco to demonstrate their approval of the company’s decision.