Farhad Manjoo writes: The battle between Apple and law enforcement officials over unlocking a terrorist’s smartphone is the culmination of a slow turning of the tables between the technology industry and the United States government.
After revelations by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden in 2013 that the government both cozied up to certain tech companies and hacked into others to gain access to private data on an enormous scale, tech giants began to recognize the United States government as a hostile actor.
But if the confrontation has crystallized in this latest battle, it may already be heading toward a predictable conclusion: In the long run, the tech companies are destined to emerge victorious.
It may not seem that way at the moment. On the one side, you have the United States government’s mighty legal and security apparatus fighting for data of the most sympathetic sort: the secrets buried in a dead mass murderer’s phone. The action stems from a federal court order issued on Tuesday requiring Apple to help the F.B.I. unlock an iPhone used by one of the two attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December.
In the other corner is the world’s most valuable company, whose chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, has said he will appeal the court’s order. Apple argues that it is fighting to preserve a principle that most of us who are addicted to our smartphones can defend: Weaken a single iPhone so that its contents can be viewed by the American government and you risk weakening all iPhones for any government intruder, anywhere.
There will probably be months of legal tussling, and it is not at all clear which side will prevail in court, nor in the battle for public opinion and legislative favor.
Yet underlying all of this is a simple dynamic: Apple, Google, Facebook and other companies hold most of the cards in this confrontation. They have our data, and their businesses depend on the global public’s collective belief that they will do everything they can to protect that data. [Continue reading…]