Writing for the Hoover Institution, Richard A. Epstein comments

Can the United States government compel Apple to help break into the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife Tafsheen Malil, gunned down fourteen innocent people last December at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino? That question has sparked fireworks in recent days. The dispute arises because Apple has equipped its new iPhones with encryption settings that erase the data contained on the phone whenever ten false password entries have been made. It was agreed on all sides that only Apple has the technology that might overcome the encryption device. [...]

In dealing with that issue, it is important to note that Farook did not own the phone; his employer did, and it gave consent to the search. This knocked out any Fourth Amendment claim that the government intended to perform some unreasonable search and seizure. The point is true, but also inconsequential, that the legal situation would not materially change if Farook had used his personal password on his very own phone. The Fourth Amendment states, “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Clearly, these requirements were satisfied when the government identified the iPhone to be searched, knowing that its possessor had committed mass murder. One of the tragic gaps in Cook’s letter is that he ignores the strength of the government’s Fourth Amendment case. He also fails to explain why granting the government’s request necessarily involves the compromise of the privacy of millions when only one iPhone is at stake.

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