UPDATED 02:01 EDT / MARCH 04 2016

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‘No, I’m Spartacus!’: It’s not just Apple vs. FBI, it’s Us vs. Them

Apple Inc. is in good company as it goes head to head in a legal battle with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concerning the latter demanding the former to hack one of its iPhones. Apple did not comply, “delivering an epic F.U. to the Feds” in the words of our own Duncan Riley.

A court filing by Michael Ramos, the San Bernardino County District Attorney, on March 3rd explains the FBI’s intentions, stating in part, “The iPhone is a county owned telephone that may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network. The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino’s infrastructure.”

A what!?

The tech world has been somewhat confounded as to what a, ‘dormant cyber pathogen’ is, and rightly so – not many people outside the apparently solipsistic FBI knows. In an interview with Ars Technica, Jonathan Zdziarski, a well-known iPhone forensics expert, likened the esoteric monster in the machine as a, “magical unicorn”. Zdziarski goes on to say that such a term has never been used in computer science and it seems that the FBI has just made the term up to, “Mislead the courts into acting irrationally in an attempt to manipulate a decision in the FB’Is favor.”

Deliver us from our insanity

Apple CEO Tim Cook called the FBI request “unprecedented”, adding that the order would “undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.” A specter US presidential candidate, security expert and SiliconANGLE contributor John McAfee talked about in a fascinating interview this week with Inverse. Mirroring Cook’s contention McAfee said in the interview, “It is not the government’s job to invade our privacy; it is absolutely its job to protect our privacy.”

Perhaps McAfee couldn’t have picked a more apt time to say such a thing. Deliver us from our insanity was the article title, a sentiment that seems to be shared with around half of the United States’ population right now.

In support of Apple the company’s chief competitor, Microsoft, came in late but nonetheless with aplomb. Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft Brad Smith said last week that the company would file an amicus brief, or ‘friend of court’, in defense of Apple.

Smith, explained in a blog post the company’s legal brief in support of Apple. Microsoft of course is not alone. Signing the brief are some of the world’s biggest hitters in terms of tech: Amazon.com, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Nest Labs, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Yahoo. The brief, Smith explains, “Reflects our deep, shared concerns about the potential ramifications of this case for technology and for our customers. At stake are fundamental questions about privacy, safety, and the rule of law.” That list is growing bigger, as re/code states here.

We all lose if Apple lose

A case such as this, as John McAfee presciently states in his interview, is of grave importance. This is one of the modern world’s biggest dilemmas – protecting our privacy in an ever-expanding digital world. Apple will go to battle in a federal court on March 22nd in the hope of persuading a judge that granting the FBI’s request would set a very dangerous precedent.

Regardless of apparent precedents, according to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult, a Washington-DC based media and technology company that analyzes current trends, it seems the American public, for the most part, is ambivalent towards the FBI case. From 1,935 people questioned around half the respondents thought that Apple should hand over the information. Other polls also suggest Americans are divided right down the middle relating to this rather serious and very modern matter.

Whatever it takes

It’s John McAfee’s contention that this is the time Americans must step forward to guard their right to privacy. “Our entire government is disposed to invade our most intimate secrets,” he says in the interview with Inverse, “We have to resist. I don’t care if it’s civil disobedience. Whatever it takes. It is on us, now…We have the natural right to privacy: It says so in the Constitution, and it is part of our human nature. It is part of being human.”

Microsoft Brad Smith speaks in a similarly moving way, according this case to a massive breach of human rights. “We’ve reached a critical moment,” says Smith, stating that technologies outrun the laws that are here to protect us and serve our basic human rights.

“By standing with Apple, we’re standing up for customers who depend on us to keep their most private information safe and secure,” says Smith.

Touche Brad.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

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