Apple vs. the FBI: Three Reasons to Side with Apple

46768344_MLWhen the story about the FBI wanting Apple to provide it with software to unlock the phone of the San Bernardino killers came out, I considered blogging about it but decided against it.  The case was too clearly in Apple’s favor, I thought.  Nobody would side with the government.  But now I see that popular opinion leans toward the government.  Perhaps I should say a few words in support of Apple.

One argument is that the FBI isn’t just asking Apple to turn over information it has.  This is nothing like a search warrant.  They want Apple to write new software to unlock the phone.  They want to force Apple to help them search for information that neither party has.  The government has no right to force anybody to provide it services against their will.

Second, does the FBI really want to argue that governments have the right to force companies to write software code that will help those governments obtain people’s personal information?  Today it is the US government, but what ground could Apple stand on if tomorrow it was the Chinese government that said they wanted Apple to help them the same way?  For that matter, how could the US government object if the Chinese government wanted to do the same thing?

Third, I’ve seen the argument that Apple is taking the stand it is on business grounds, to protect the value of its brand name.  Let’s say this is completely true.  Should the government be in a position to force a company to engage in activities that erode the value of its brand?

This third argument is related to the argument that creating a back door into the phone would be bad for most people because it would compromise their security, but it’s not the same argument.  Whether or not a back door into the phone would be a problem, it’s wrong for the government to force Apple to produce software that will damage its brand name.

I’m surprised that when asked, a majority of Americans side with the FBI on this.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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