FBI v. Apple


Why won’t Apple unlock the iPhone used by a terrorist? (Fusion)

Use our basic resources to introduce issues about privacy and personal territory. Do students consider data on their smartphones their “personal territory”?

Scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

  • How did this all start?
    • According to the genuinely great explainer from Fusion, “The FBI has an work-issued iPhone left behind by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, who, along with his wife, killed 14 people and injured others at his workplace in December. The FBI wants to unlock the phone so they can see if there’s anything helpful for their investigation. But there’s a problem: the phone’s data is encrypted; it can only be unlocked with Farook’s passcode, and Farook is dead.”


  • The phone in question was issued by Farook’s employer; he destroyed two personal phones (which presumably held more pertinent information) before the attack. So why does the FBI want to investigate this iPhone?
    • The government wants to see if Farook communicated with any of his victims before the assault. Beyond that, the FBI is not sure what might be on the phone.
    • According to FBI Director James Comey, “Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t.”


  • Why is unlocking the iPhone so difficult?
    • Apple, invested in becoming “the privacy company” over the past several years, has built robust security into the iPhone:
      • 1. It only lets you try 10 incorrect passcodes before it erases the data on the phone (In other words—yes, it has a self-destruct code.)
      • 2. It makes you wait an increasingly long time between incorrect attempts.
    • At this point, Apple will have to write a special software code (a hack that Apple is calling a “GovtOS” and others are calling an FBiOS, heh) that will disable those privacy features. The company says it will take 10 employees up to 4 months to hack the iPhone.









  • Who is supporting the FBI?
    • The government and law enforcement. Obviously.
    • Some families of the San Bernardino victims.The victims ‘have questions that go simply beyond the criminal investigation … in terms of why this happened, how this happened, why they were targeted, is there anything about them on the iPhone—things that are more of a personal victim’ view”, according to their attorney.
    • Those who think the war on terror requires this kind of heightened security. Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, for example, thinks that “with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government on our behalf—like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future—that [FBiOS-like compliance] is valuable.”




Fusion: Apple’s battle with the FBI: All your questions answered

Nat Geo: What is personal territory? How can it be defended?

Guardian: Apple v the FBI: what’s the beef, how did we get here and what’s at stake?

New York Times: Explaining Apple’s Fight with the FBI

Tech2: Apple vs FBI: The story so far

Engadget: What you need to know about Apple’s fight with the FBI

Wired: Apple’s FBI Battle is Complicated. Here’s What’s Really Going On

Vox: Why Apple and the FBI are fighting over access to the San Bernardino shooter’s phone

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