Clinton and Sanders won't take sides in Apple's FBI fight

Democratic candidates both call for Apple and the government to work together to find a solution

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 19, 2016
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The latest brouhaha going on right now is between Apple CEO Tim Cook and the FBI over whether or not the company will allow the government to have access to the iPhone of one of the killers in the San Bernardino shootings last year. The government wants access, and Apple won't give it to them. 

The issue goes beyond tech, of course. There are major implications in what happens here, regarding both citizen's right to privacy, as well as our national security. So, naturally, especially since this is an election year, it has become a political issue as well.

On Thursday night, MSNBC held a townhall style debate with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and both of them were asked, separately, their thoughts on the issue. Unlike many on the other side of the aisle, neither candidate would condemn Apple for its stance, instead choosing a middle ground on the issue.

Sanders was asked first what he thought of the issue, he called it "complicated."

"I am very fearful in America about Big Brother," Sanders said, meaning the government being able to read people's e-mails, and get their health record. "On the other hand, what I also worry about, is the possibility of another terrorist attack against our country."

The Senator called for "middle ground" that he believes can be reached by the two sides.

"I think there has got to be a balance.” 

When Clinton was asked the same question, she took a very similar stance, calling it "one of the most difficult dilemmas that we're faced with."

Law enforcement has every reason to want to get information off of a killer's cell phone, she said, while also capitulating that Apple, too, has a strong reason for staking its position on this.

"Apple, understandably, is worried about opening the door, creating what they call a "back door," into encryption, that would not just have to field requests from the United States government, but from the Chinese, Russian, Iranian governments

Instead of taking one side over the other, Clinton called for the government and the tech industry work together, in order “to figure out what is the path forward." 

"I see both sides," she said. "We don't want privacy and encryption destroyed, and we want to catch, and make sure there's nobody else out, who's information is on that cellphone of the killer."

This stance, of government and tech companies working together to stop terrorism, is the same argument Clinton made regarding social media's role in the fight against groups like ISIS.

“They are using websites, social media, chat rooms and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists and call for attacks. We should work with host companies to shut them down,” Clinton saidin a speech in December, calling for dialogue between governments around the word and the tech community to "confront this problem together.

“We're going to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space."

Silicon Valley's stance

While the politicians are weighing both sides, or at least the Democrats are, many of Apple's fellow techcompanies, including some of its biggest rivals, have come out on its side on this issue. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote on Twitter that if Apple were to comply it "could be a troublingprecedent. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also Tweeted his support for Apple and Cook.

"These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies' efforts to secure theirproducts," Facebook said in a statement to USA Today.

In a blog post, Dallas Mavericks owner, and Shark Tank star, Mark Cuban voiced his strong solidarity with Apple.

"They did the exact right thing by not complying with the order.  They are exactly right that this is a very,very slippery slope. And while the FBI is attempting to be very clear that this is a one off request, there is no chance that it is.  This will not be the last horrific event whose possible resolution could be on a smartphone," he wrote.  

"There will be many government agencies that many times in the future,  point to Apples compliance as a precedent. Once this happens,  we all roll down that slippery slope of lost privacy together."

Tim Cook explained his position, and why he doesn't want to give the FBI access to the phone, in a letter to Apple customers on Thursday.

"The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge," said Cook.

"Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government."

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