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PRO/CON: Should Apple have resisted FBI pressure to hack terrorist iPhone?

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 stood up for itself – and the rest of us

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) dropped its lawsuit against Apple after it found another way to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino, California, gunmen. This turn of events does not make Apple’s refusal to help the FBI any less important.

The FBI backed off because it was able to obtain the information inside the phone without Apple's assistance. However, the issues raised by this dispute have not been resolved. We can also expect similar disputes in the future. That’s why it is important to understand why Apple was right to take the 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 never had the information the FBI was seeking. Instead, the FBI wanted Apple to write new software to unlock Syed Farook's iPhone. 

Farook and his wife killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino last December. The FBI thought Farook's phone might have important information about the shooting. However, because of the privacy features of the iPhone, the FBI could not search through the phone without the password. The FBI asked Apple to create software to unlock the phone and allow their agents to search through it. When Apple refused, the FBI sought to force the company to help by taking it to court. 

FBI Demands Were Unconstitutional

The U.S. government has no right to force anybody to provide it services against their will.

Consider the broader implications of the FBI’s argument. FBI officials maintained that the U.S. government has the right to force companies to help it obtain people’s personal information. Apple did not have any way to obtain the information on Farook's phone. The company would have had to create new software to do what the FBI wanted.

I have seen other arguments for supporting Apple. These arguments say Apple refused to unlock the phone for business reasons, to protect the value of its brand.

Should the U.S. government be able to force companies to damage the value of their own brand?

Apple phones have features that protect the privacy of people's information. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees Americans 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.

Real Danger Is A Secret Attack On Rights Of All Americans

Yes, the Fourth Amendment also says the government has a right to search personal property. However, the government can only do this with a search warrant and a very good reason to do so. The Fourth Amendment does not say that anyone else can be forced to aid the government in its searches.

It does not matter whether the software the FBI wanted Apple to create would cause problems for phone owners. Forcing Apple to create such software would have violated the rights of the company.

During World War I and World War II, Congress gave the president the power to force companies to aid the war effort. That power ended when the wars ended. The FBI wanted to claim similar powers over Apple during normal times. And it wanted to do so without Congress' approval.

This case was about more than the threat of a secret way to obtain the information in our phones. The real danger we face is a secret attack on our rights.

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

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 Newsela.

CON: Apple's resistance was shortsighted, even unpatriotic

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has unlocked the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the gunmen in last December's San Bernardino, California, mass shooting. This appears to let Apple off the hook legally.

However, the FBI dropping its lawsuit against Apple does not mean Tim Cook acted justly. Cook is Apple's chief executive officer, or CEO. Cook refused to unlock Farook's phone without the password to help the FBI investigate the shootings. This refusal is hard to defend when America and its allies are under attack from extremist groups.

The case against Apple might be over, but the issues behind it are unlikely to go away. Similar cases are sure to arise as federal agencies face off with technology companies in the future.

Cook responded to the FBI’s request to unlock Farook's phone in December with an open letter. He labeled the request a “breach of privacy” with “chilling consequences” for free speech. Cook might have been right. However, his actions have set back the FBI's efforts to stop the actions of extremists by at least three months.

Thousands Of Extremists Could Be Plotting Attacks

Cook should also reconsider his use of the word “chilling." It now seems out of proportion after the recent Brussels, Belgium, and Pakistan bombings by the Islamic State extremist group. The Islamic State is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

The March 22 bombings in Brussels killed more than 30 people and put all of Europe on a red alert. Brussels is more than just the capital of Belgium. It is also the headquarters of the European Union, the group of 28 European countries who work together on trade and other matters.

Authorities in EU countries believe extremist cells have spread across Europe. These groups of fighters are believed to be ready to commit more horrible acts. They are only waiting to receive orders from their superiors.

U.S. intelligence experts have warned of a similar problem for years. They worry that there may be several thousand extremists in America awaiting similar orders.

Our political leaders have been slow to listen to those warnings. Now, hopefully, they will realize that what could be World War III has already started. It will not end until we stop the tens of thousands of extremists eager to carry out deadly attacks.

Corporate America Made Important Sacrifices In World War II

As for Apple’s Tim Cook, he might want to take a history lesson. He should consider how our nation’s top CEOs responded to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s appeal for help after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The “dastardly attack” as FDR put it, severely damaged our Pacific naval fleet. FDR and his military leaders realized that our military was woefully outdated. Many of our planes, tanks and ships were left over from the 1920s and 1930s.

To correct this, FDR created the Committee for Economic Development. Paul G. Hoffman, the CEO of automaker Studebaker, led a committee with 20 of the nation’s top corporate leaders.

Their mission: to make America “the arsenal of democracy.” They accomplished that goal by converting the nation’s largest industrial plants into factories for wartime production. A look at the top automakers of the time shows just what can be accomplished when companies help the government fight wars. 

Ford converted its large vehicle factory at Willow Run, Michigan, to produce aircraft. Some 24,000 B-24 Liberator bombers were made there.

Chrysler took over tank production, making more than 86,000 Sherman tanks.

General Motors, America’s largest manufacturer, outdid everyone. The Detroit-based goliath produced 854,000 trucks, 198,000 diesel engines and 206,000 aircraft engines. GM also made 38,000 tanks, tank destroyers and armored vehicles. 

Hoffman’s own Studebaker produced thousands of Weasels, a vehicle that could travel on land or in water. General Douglas MacArthur’s troops used these vehicles to cross the jungles of the Pacific islands.

America’s corporate leaders put patriotism ahead of profits. Many worked for $1 a year until the war ended.

As we enter what 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.

ABOUT THE WRITER: 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, Maryland 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 Newsela.

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Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the sentences from the second paragraph of the PRO article.

The FBI backed off because it was able to obtain the information inside the phone without Apple's assistance. However, the issues raised by this dispute have not been resolved.

Based on this paragraph, a "dispute" is a:









Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the title of the CON article.

"CON: Apple's resistance was shortsighted, even unpatriotic"

Based on the information in the CON article, what did the author mean by "shortsighted"?


Apple resisted because their company has too much power.


Apple only planned on resisting for a brief amount of time.


Apple did not fully consider the larger impact of their resistance.


Apple's choice to resist was based on opinion and not fact.

Anchor 8: Arguments & Claims

Which piece of evidence from the CON article is LEAST relevant to his argument?


Authorities in the European Union believe Islamic State terror cells have spread throughout Europe.


U.S. intelligence experts have warned that there may already be several thousand extremists in America.


After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, America's top CEOs responded in support of the war effort and helped the government.


Apple CEO Tim Cook is wealthy; he had a salary last year of more than $10.28 million dollars.

Anchor 8: Arguments & Claims

Read the introduction to the PRO article [paragraphs 1-5].

How does the PRO author make the claim that the FBI's demand that Apple unlock the phone was unreasonable?


by predicting that the FBI will continue to make demands of Apple in the future


by pointing out the difference between the FBI's demand and a search warrant


by explaining the connection between the FBI's demand and the San Bernardino shooting


by showing that the FBI's demand was technically impossible for Apple to fulfill


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