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How China plays a role in Apple’s legal battle with the FBI

February 20th, 2016 at 9:00 AM
iPhone Hacking

Apple’s tussle with the FBI over hacking into a terrorist’s iPhone has ignited a firestorm of controversy and debate surrounding the role tech companies should play in the realm of law enforcement and surveillance. Apple’s position on the matter is clear: acquiescing to the FBI’s request to develop a tool to unlock an iPhone, even if it belonged to a murderous terrorist, would set a dangerous precedent and slippery slope.

As one of Apple’s lawyers recently intimated, the company is wary about becoming “an agent of law enforcement.”

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“Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data,” Tim Cook wrote in his now widely circulated public letter. “Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the slippery slope argument centers on China. Interestingly, the following excerpt from a The New York Times article regarding the Apple/FBI saga was removed after publication.

China is watching the dispute closely. Analysts say the Chinese government does take cues from United States when it comes to encryption regulations, and that it would most likely demand that multinational companies provide accommodations similar to those in United States.

Last year, Beijing backed off several proposals that would have mandated that foreign firms providing encryption keys for devices sold in China after heavy pressure from foreign trade groups. …

“…  While it’s still not clear how the law might be carried out, it is possible a push from American law enforcement agencies to unlock iPhones would embolden Beijing to demand the same. China would also most likely push to acquire any technology that would allow it to unlock iPhones.

The Times hasn’t yet explained or even acknowledged that the above excerpt was removed from one of its articles. Still, it presents an interesting side to the slippery slope argument, namely that once Apple bows down to pressure from the FBI, what’s to stop state actors from China from implementing similar demands?

Indeed, this is precisely why the Apple/FBI battle is so compelling; it’s an issue with extremely sweeping ramifications for privacy rights across the globe while, at the same time, an issue with important national security considerations as well.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.

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