With a legal battle brewing between Apple and the FBI over the iPhone maker’s refusal to help unlock the device in a mass shooting case, three experts sat down to dissect the issue during a panel discussion held Friday at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool). 

Panelists included Kevin Du, professor at the College of Engineering and Computer ScienceBill Snyder, visiting assistant professor at the College of Law, and Yang Wang, assistant professor at the iSchool. Each provided a different perspective into the case, which pits personal privacy issues against a possible terrorist investigation.

Professor Kevin Du, an expert in smart phone encryption, wonders why Apple doesn’t simply provide the date the government seeks, rather than provide the key. “If you ask me to provide the data to you, that’s fine. If you ask me to write a code to find a ‘back door’, that’s a different story. That’s creating new technology to break into their phones. You’re asking Apple to break into it’s own phone. If you ever do this, then that gives the government the ability to go to any technology company and demand the same result.”

Professor Snyder, a former federal prosecutor from Pennsylvania, says Apple “doesn’t have a strong case, and I think they know that. I think that’s why the opening in the legal brief from Apple is ‘we want Congress to decide this’, well, that’s great, Congress should decide, but I don’t think it’s going to change the outcome of this particular case.”

Snyder also believes that Apple will have no option other to comply with the court if it rules in the government’s favor. “One thing to be clear about, is this is not up to Apple. Once District Court decides what the order is going to be, Apple doesn’t have the option to say no. Yahoo tried with France, Google with the European Union. The end result is fines, and then seizure of assests, and then eventually executives at the company will be arrested. This is a nation of laws, and Apple doesn’t make the laws.”

According to Professor Yang Wang, it’s an incredibly slippery slope. “The question really is, are you willing to give the FBI or the government the ability to fight terrorists by looking into your phone and essentially seeing any data about you? Because, that’s what we’re facing here. The government would have the ability to go after anybody they choose, and no one’s private information would be safe.” “I think the more important and useful question to ask is, can we provide the FBI with the information they need, while preserving privacy.”

All three faculty members are available for interview. Please contact Syracuse University News Services at (315) 443-9038 or email kkobland@syr.edu.

Video of Panel Discussion 

Apple vs. FBI Panel Discussion at the iSchool from Syracuse University News.