Technology and The New Age of Privacy

3 months ago admin 0

At what point does one of the top CEO’s in the county become a threat to national security? At what point does the federal government get to order a company to create a technological advancement that will rob the public of their right to privacy? At what point does an alleged “national security threat” forfeit his or her First Amendment rights?


On February 16, 2016, Apple released an open letter from CEO Tim Cook to his customers about certain demands he is facing from the federal government regarding the San Bernardino terrorism acts last December. Until this point, Cook has cooperated with the FBI in all aspects of the investigation of the San Bernardino attack.


The U.S. government is now demanding Cook to create a self-dubbed “backdoor” to the iPhone. This would mean building a new type of operating system that would allow a breach in device security. The company refuses to create this software because of the dangers that could come from its existence.


In an age of limited privacy, the existence of this “backdoor” would disregard the ever-important digital security of our devices. This would not simply be a one-time incident where Apple disregarded their own standards of privacy for the sake of aiding the FBI in a high-profile case. Instead, they would set a new precedent in the world of technology and government which would essentially allow anyone’s privacy to be breached when the government sees fit.


The ongoing battle between government surveillance and the public’s right to privacy has not begun and will not end with the case of Tim Cook and the San Bernardino attack. In this particular case, if Cook gives in to the demands of the U.S. government, it will potentially put all Apple customers at risk of security breaches as well as criminal attacks. This is not a matter of unsympathetic rigidity. It is a matter of public safety.


The debate between Tim Cook and the requests and demands of the federal government has brought about a few heavily debated questions.



  • Is this legal? Sort of. The government has used the “All Writs Act” to back up their court-issued demand for Tim Cook. The law states that the courts and justices “may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” This has been used to combat terrorist acts and breach the security of technological devices in the past as well.
  • What about our right to privacy? Since Edward Snowden’s exposure of government surveillance plans and subsequent conviction under the Espionage Act in 2013, we have seen a spike in public interest for greater technological privacy, as well as a harsher government reaction toward refusal to cooperate with breaches of privacy for the sake of “national security.”
  • Does the request violate the First Amendment? Possibly. If Tim Cook’s actions are interpreted as “petition[ing] the Government for a redress of grievances,” then he is protected by the First Amendment and he can refuse the government’s demands. However, this would be yet another matter of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution that could go either way.

Tim Cook’s actions have been criticized by few and upheld by many in his refusal to create the technology that the federal government demands. At this point, he has refused to follow an order issued by a court justice, but further legal action has not been taken.