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OPINION
 

PRO/CON: Was Apple justified in refusing to help the FBI?

Protesters, including Victoria Best (right) and Charles Fredricks, hold signs supporting Apple in its fight against the FBI. They stood outside the Apple store in Santa Monica, California, on Feb. 23, 2016.
Protesters, including Victoria Best (right) and Charles Fredricks, hold signs supporting Apple in its fight against the FBI. They stood outside the Apple store in Santa Monica, California, on Feb. 23, 2016. Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/TNS

PRO: Apple CEO was right to defend basics

The FBI’s decision to drop its lawsuit against Apple, in which it sought to force the company to create software to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino, California, terrorists, in no way lessens the importance of Apple’s position in the matter.

The FBI backed off because it was able to hack into the phone, but the issues raised by this controversy have not been resolved. We should expect a replay in the future; that’s why it’s important to understand why Apple was right to take the principled position it did.

Basic American rights were at stake, and the purpose of law is to protect people’s rights.

Consider what the FBI asked Apple to do. The FBI did not ask Apple to turn over information it already had. This was nothing like a search warrant. Apple did not have the information the FBI was seeking — and never had it.

Instead, the FBI wanted Apple to write new software to unlock the phone in order to help it search for the information. The government has no right to force anybody to involuntarily provide it services.

Consider the broader implications of the FBI’s argument. FBI officials maintained that the government has the right to force companies to undertake activities that will help the government obtain people’s personal information. Apple was not hiding anything and would have had to create new software to do what the FBI wanted.

This is our government; but what if it was the Chinese government that wanted Apple to unlock the phones of Chinese citizens alleged to have broken the law? Would Americans — and the American FBI — support such attempts to force Apple to break into people’s phones?

If the case had gone forward and the FBI had won, it would justify giving all governments the same powers the FBI wanted. When the time inevitably came, the U.S. government could hardly argue that a foreign government doesn’t have the same right to force companies to aid their investigations. Would this really be in our long-term interest?

I have seen the argument that Apple was refusing to unlock the phone for business reasons, to protect the value of its brand.

Let’s say this is true. Should the government be in a position to force companies to engage in activities that erode the value of their brand?

Apple phones have features that protect the privacy of information people have on them. The Fourth Amendment guarantees people this right to privacy. Individuals have the right to possess information without having to share it with the government. And Apple has the right to provide products that help individuals protect this right.

Yes, the Fourth Amendment also says the government has a right to search if it has a warrant and probable cause. But it does not say that third parties can be conscripted to aid the government in its searches.

Regardless of whether the software the FBI wanted Apple to create would create problems for phone owners, forcing Apple to create such software would have violated the rights of the company and its stakeholders.

War powers in effect during the two World Wars gave the president substantial power to force corporations to redirect their resources toward producing output to aid the war effort. Those war powers were repealed after the wars ended. The FBI wanted to claim similar powers during normal times, without an act of Congress.

More than the threat of a backdoor into our phones, the real danger we would face is a backdoor attack on our rights.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Randall G. Holcombe is a research fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University and past president of the Public Choice Society. Readers may write him at 162 Bellamy Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306 or email him at holcombe@fsu.edu.

This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Tribune or its editors.

CON: Apple's refusal to cooperate harms FBI's counterterrorism efforts

The FBI’s recent announcement that it found third-party help in decoding San Bernardino, California, terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone appears to let Apple off the hook legally.

However, the FBI’s decision to drop its lawsuit against Apple does not in any way justify company CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to help in an age when America and its global allies are coming under increasing attack from Islamist terrorists.

Even though this particular case has been dropped, legal scholars say the issues it revealed are unlikely to go away as quickly. Similar cases are sure to arise as federal security agencies lock horns with Silicon Valley companies in the near future.

Cook responded to the FBI’s request in December with an open letter labeling the request a “breach of privacy” with “chilling consequences” for free speech. His action, now seemingly vindicated, nevertheless has set back the efforts of the FBI to stanch terrorism by at least three months.

The Apple CEO should reconsider his use of the word “chilling” in the aftermath of the recent Brussels and Pakistan bombings by Islamic State terrorists.

The bombings in Brussels, the European Union’s headquarters city, put all of Europe on a red alert.

Authorities in EU countries believe Islamic terrorist cells have mushroomed across Europe — ready to commit more horrendous acts as they receive orders from their controllers in the Middle East and North Africa.

And U.S. intelligence experts have warned for years that there may be several thousand Islamic terrorists embedded in America awaiting similar orders.

Our political leaders have been slow to heed those warnings, but now, hopefully, they are starting to realize that what could be World War III has already started. It will not end until we eliminate the tens of thousands of fanatics eager to perpetrate atrocities based on hoary 14th century religious decrees.

As for Apple’s Cook, he might want to consider how our nation’s top CEOs responded to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s appeal for help in the wake of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The “dastardly attack” as FDR put it, devastated our Pacific fleet with the exception of two aircraft carriers that were out to sea. FDR and his military advisers realized that our military was woefully equipped with planes, tanks and ships left over from the 1920s and 1930s.

He created the Committee for Economic Development and picked Paul G. Hoffman, the CEO of Studebaker, to head a committee with 20 other of the nation’s top corporate leaders.

Their mission: to make America “the arsenal of democracy.” They accomplished that goal in short order by ending the manufacturing of civilian goods at the nation’s largest industrial plants and quickly converting those facilities to wartime production.

Ford, for instance, converted its sprawling vehicle factory at Willow Run to producing bombers, including some 24,000 B-24 Liberators.

Chrysler took over tank production, making more than 86,000 Sherman tanks. Willys Overland produced 363,000 Jeeps, most in Toledo, Ohio.

General Motors, as America’s largest manufacturer, outdid everyone. The Detroit-based goliath produced 854,000 trucks, 198,000 diesel engines, 206,000 aircraft engines, and 38,000 tanks, tank destroyers and armored vehicles, not to mention vast quantities of guns and ammunition.

And Hoffman’s Studebaker produced thousands of Weasels, the go-anywhere amphibious vehicle that allowed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s troops to cross the jungle mire of otherwise impassable areas in New Guinea and the Philippines.

America’s corporation executives, who put patriotism ahead of profits, worked for one dollar a year until the war ended

As we enter what well may be World War III, Apple’s Cook might want to take particular note of their sacrifice. His salary last year, by the way, was $10.28 million and his net worth was an estimated $785 million.

ABOUT THE WRITER: A native of El Paso, Texas, Whitt Flora is an independent journalist and former chief congressional correspondent for Aviation & Space Technology Magazine. Readers may write him at 319 Shagbark Road, Middle River, Md. 21220.

This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Tribune or its editors.

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1
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the following paragraph from the PRO side of the argument.

Yes, the Fourth Amendment also says the government has a right to search if it has a warrant and probable cause. But it does not say that third parties can be conscripted to aid the government in its searches.

Which sentence from the article helps to explain what "conscripted" means?

A

We should expect a replay in the future; that’s why it’s important to understand why Apple was right to take the principled position it did.

B

FBI officials maintained that the government has the right to force companies to undertake activities that will help the government obtain people’s personal information.

C

The FBI backed off because it was able to hack into the phone, but the issues raised by this controversy have not been resolved.

D

As we enter what well may be World War III, Apple’s Cook might want to take particular note of their sacrifice.

2
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

What is the CLOSEST meaning of the phrase "patriotism ahead of profits" as used in the following sentence from the CON section?

America’s corporation executives, who put patriotism ahead of profits, worked for one dollar a year until the war ended.

A

They prioritized innovation over financial gain.

B

They prioritized their pride over their savings.

C

They prioritized personal victory over economic safety.

D

They prioritized love of country over money.

3
Anchor 8: Arguments & Claims

Which sentence from the PRO article is LEAST relevant to his argument?

A

If the case had gone forward and the FBI had won, it would justify giving all governments the same powers the FBI wanted.

B

The Fourth Amendment does not say that third parties can be conscripted to aid the government in its searches.

C

War powers in effect during the two World Wars gave the president substantial power to force corporations to redirect their resources toward producing output to aid the war effort.

D

This is our government; but what if it was the Chinese government that wanted Apple to unlock the phones of Chinese citizens alleged to have broken the law?

4
Anchor 8: Arguments & Claims

Which claim from the CON article has the LEAST amount of support?

A

Tim Cook does not know very much about history.

B

In the past, CEOs have supported the U.S. government.

C

Global terrorism is reaching crisis levels.

D

U.S. factories produced a massive amount of wartime supplies during World War II.

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