Apple’s iPhone Problem: The Prisoner’s Dilemma



Reading CEO Tim Cook’s argument that allowing a narrow option for unlock one specific mobile device for the FBI is ‘bad for America’ makes me wonder how clear cut that is. His argument is as follows:

Federal officials have said they’re only asking for narrow assistance in bypassing some security features on the iPhone, which they believe may contain information related to the mass murders. Apple has argued that doing so would make other iPhones more susceptible to hacking by authorities or criminals in the future.

“At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties,” Cook said.

Is it? Is that the truth? Or is there more than meets the eye?

Stop and think about it. We already have circumstances in the Laws for let’s say Doctor/Patient privilege, etc., just to take the most obvious example: we know that the Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply at the Federal level, yet vary at the state level in the United States (I’ll not go into other countries.).

As for Digital storage devices there are also rules on the books for this, although it is newer and not as well tested:

Many courts in the United States have applied the Federal Rules of Evidence to digital evidence in a similar way to traditional documents, although important differences such as the lack of established standards and procedures have been noted. In addition, digital evidence tends to be more voluminous, more difficult to destroy, easily modified, easily duplicated, potentially more expressive, and more readily available. As such, some courts have sometimes treated digital evidence differently for purposes of authentication, hearsay, the best evidence rule, and privilege. In December 2006, strict new rules were enacted within the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requiring the preservation and disclosure of electronically stored evidence. Digital evidence is often attacked for its authenticity due to the ease with which it can be modified, although courts are beginning to reject this argument without proof of tampering.

Digital evidence is often ruled inadmissible by courts because it was obtained without authorization.In most jurisdictions a warrant is required to seize and investigate digital devices. In a digital investigation this can present problems where, for example, evidence of other crimes are identified while investigating another. During a 1999 investigation into online harassment by Keith Schroeder investigators found pornographic images of children on his computer. A second warrant had to be obtained before the evidence could be used to charge Schroeder.

Hypothetical Situation

I do not know if CEO Tim Cook has children or a mate, he keeps his personal life private and we’ll respect that. I’m only thinking of a hypothetical situation, fictional…

Let’s say that Tim adopted children, and one of them had taken a cab to meet a friend, on the way the hypothetical child was kidnapped but the iPhone was left on the cab seat, etc. All hypothetical to be sure.

Now the FBI attains the phone but is unable to get into to see if there might be a call log or something left as evidence, a text message, note, etc. that might offer a clue to the kidnapping: who took her, maybe she snapped a photo, etc.

Now with Tim Cook having banned such access – What to do? Will Tim Cook stand by his current policy and principles and disallow the FBI access to his child’s iPhone even if it might lead them to his child and gain her safety? Of course in Game Theory this type of situation is a classic Prisoner’s dilemma event. But this time it is a combination of Tim Cook in conflict with his own principles and beliefs: should I or should I not allow the FBI access to the iPhone by-pass? If I do it will obviously allow the potential for future hackings to occur by both criminal and official parties; or, do I remain adamant and stand by my principles of absolutely no access, and possibly allow my daughter to either be harmed or killed by my action on this matter? Which does he choose?

This is only one such situation, but it illustrates only that things are not just carved in stone: that there are circumstances when even under the best circumstances one must be able to weigh the options in the balance of things; things are not always clear-cut, there are gray areas in life: life is messiness, and for the most part does not meet our rational prescriptions, either ethically or philosophically – much less, politically. So we have to make allowances. Or do we? Who makes the choice? That’s the dilemma.

Does a private corporation have the right to act as a person and forgo the Law of the Land? Is this a political/ideological issue? Or a matter of Law? A moral and ethical dilemma or a company protecting its property? Which? Or both? Is this actually about freedom and the security of Apple’s customer data, or something else altogether? Nothing is ever as clear as that… Who will decide? Courts? Politicians? The People? Will State and Local Laws and courts take precedence over Federal as they do now? How will the Supreme Court handle such a ruling?

I can see this dragging on for years and years ….

3 thoughts on “Apple’s iPhone Problem: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

  1. I don’t buy Cook’s ‘logic’ either. Also, SCOTUS setting a precedent that corporations are people (Citizens United) and having those same corporations extending beyond national borders and changing their corporate headquarters to ‘escape higher taxes’ is a recipe for disaster.


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