iConstitution: How Apple is using the Constitution as a basis for its argument against the FBI
It’s quite difficult to imagine exactly what the Framers of the Constitution would think of the construal of their document to protect the locked-away iMessages and data of the San Bernardino terrorists. Yet, the principles of the Constitution that Apple is using to rebut the arguments of the FBI protect the rights of the individual to privacy and due process in a succinct and powerful manner.[i]
Primarily at play are the First and Fifth Amendments, but Apple also relies upon an argument against the All Writs Act of 1789.[ii] The FBI is using the All Writs Act as its source of authority for the court order compelling Apple to create a new version of its operating system that would make it easier to access the iPhone’s password-protected data.[iii] Apple fears that the creation of such software would not only threaten the privacy of all Apple users, but would also place an undue burden on the company to either destroy the program after the FBI uses it or keep and protect it against the certain multitude of attempts by “criminals, terrorists, and hackers” to steal the software. [iv]
Apple’s First Amendment argument relies upon the established classification of computer code as speech.[v] The First Amendment, as it pertains to this issue, prohibits the making of any law abridging free speech.[vi] In this instance, Apple argues that its interests are protected because the Supreme Court has clearly decided that First Amendment protections apply when the government attempts to compel speech.[vii] Apple cites Riley v. Nat’l Fed. of the Blind of N.C., Inc., which upholds the idea that the court must scrutinize attempts by the government to compel speech, and it will be allowed only when the request is of a scope narrow enough to obtain a compelling state interest.[viii] The FBI, Apple argues, does not meet this standard because it has produced nothing more than mere speculation of potentially relevant information on the phone.[ix] Further, any relevant information may be encrypted using non-Apple software in secure communication applications.[x]
The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause is applied in an attempt to protect Apple from governmental conscription.[xi] The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause states, “[n]o person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law…”[xii]Apple argues that a court order compelling the company to create a backdoor that unlocks the San Bernardino terrorists’ phone violates its Due Process because the government would be depriving Apple of its liberty.[xiii] The government cannot force a private company to perform actions that are excessively burdensome and “contrary to the company’s core principles,” and Apple contends that the FBI’s request that Apple creates software that allows access to this iPhone cannot succeed due to this protection.[xiv]
With respect to the FBI’s use of the All Writs Act, Apple maintains that the FBI’s order violates the two requirements developed through the common law that are pursuant to all orders.[xv] The Act requires that orders “must not adversely affect the basic interests of the third party or impose an undue burden.”[xvi] Apple alleges that the FBI’s order fails the first requirement because it has a powerful interest in protecting its security systems and all Apple customers depend on the company for their privacy.[xvii] The FBI’s order fails the second requirement too, argues Apple, because Apple would be forced to create a program that undermines the security features the company spent years developing.[xviii] Further, if Apple is compelled to create such software, it would open the floodgates to a large number of parties seeking similar software.[xix] Apple would be forced to either build and destroy software for each phone they are compelled to break open or safeguard the software against certain numerous attacks by parties with dubious intentions, both of which are alleged to be an undue burden on the company.[xx]
Apple presents itself as the hero of the rights of private companies to protect personal privacy against valid governmental concerns. The company does not seek to negate the FBI’s need to access the San Bernardino terrorists’ iPhone data, but rather hopes to preserve and protect the rights of individuals at the cost of burdening the government. Apple’s reliance on integral amendments to the Constitution serve to bolster its stance and prove that though dated, the Constitution’s elasticity allows its application to the technological intricacies of the current times. The argument is powerful, but the FBI’s reliance upon the All Writs Act and public safety concerns may outweigh Apple’s protection of privacy.
[i] Apple Inc.’s Mot. to Vacate Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search, and Opposition to Govt.’s Mot. to Compel Assistance, 32:5.
[ii] Id.; Id. at 14:13,14.
[iii] Id. at 14:13,14.
[iv] Id. at 25:6-9.
[v] Id. at 32:15,16 (citing sources that treat computer code as speech under the First Amendment).
[vi] U.S. Const. amend. I.
[vii] Mot. to Vacate, 32:21,22.
[viii] Id. at 32:22-6 (citing Riley v. Nat’l Fed. of the Blind of N.C., Inc., 487 U.S. 781,796 (1988)).
[ix] Id. at 33:3-6.
[x] Id. at 33:8-10.
[xi] Id. at 34:10,11.
[xii] U.S. Const. amend. V.
[xiii] Mot. to Vacate, 34:14-17 (citing Costanich v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 627 F.3d 1101, 1110 (9th Cir. 2010).
[xv] Id. at 23:8,9 (citing United States v. Hall, 582 F. Supp. 717, 719 (E.D. Va. 1984).
[xvii] Id. at 23:11-16.
[xviii] Id. at 23:20-22.
[xix] Id. at 24:6-8.
[xx] Id. at 24:17-19, 25:1,2.