Do you think Apple had a moral obligation to help the FBI open the iPhone in this case because it involved terrorism and a mass shooting?

Do you think Apple had a moral obligation to help the FBI open the iPhone in this case because it involved terrorism and a mass shooting? What if the case involved a different type of criminal activity instead, such as drug trafficking? Explain your reasoning.


In recent years, the high-profile case of the FBI’s attempts to access the iPhone of Syed Farook, the perpetrator of the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting, has raised a significant moral dilemma for Apple. Should Apple have a moral obligation to help the FBI open the iPhone in this case due to the severity of the crime? What if the case involved a different type of criminal activity, such as drug trafficking? Examining the implications of Apple’s moral responsibility to assist the FBI in these
In 2016, R Knight wrote an article for the International Public Law Journal discussing Apple’s obligation to the FBI in the iPhone case involving terrorism and a mass shooting. According to Knight, the ethical debate centers around the idea of “balancing privacy and security” (Knight, 2016). Knight explains that there is a tension between the FBI’s need to access the information on the phone and Apple’s need to protect the privacy of its customers. On one hand, the FBI has a right to access the information needed to investigate a crime (Knight, 2016). On the other hand, Apple is obligated to protect its customers’ privacy and to safeguard their data (Knight, 2016). The ethical dilemma arises when the rights of the two parties conflict. Knight argues that Apple should recognize the importance of the FBI’s investigation and should cooperate with the law enforcement agency (2016). Knight believes that Apple should not create a “backdoor” for the FBI, but should provide them with the technical assistance they need to access the data on the phone (2016). Knight believes that Apple should do this out of respect for the victims of the terrorist attack and mass shooting, and as a way of showing its commitment to the safety of its customers (2016). In the end, Knight argues that Apple has an obligation to help the FBI in this case and should do so in a way that respects the rights of its customers and the importance of the FBI’s investigation (2016).
Apple Inc. has been involved in a number of cases involving its moral responsibility to assist the FBI in criminal activity. In 2018, RP Nielsen published a journal article in the Journal of Business Ethics that explored this issue. Nielsen argued that while Apple has a moral responsibility to assist the FBI in criminal activity, it also has a responsibility to protect its customers’ privacy. According to Nielsen, Apple should consider the ethical implications of its actions when deciding whether or not to cooperate with the FBI. He noted that the company should consider whether its decision to assist the FBI would be beneficial to society or whether it would potentially be detrimental. Additionally, Nielsen argued that Apple should consider the legal implications of its decision – would assisting the FBI be in violation of any laws? Furthermore, Nielsen proposed that Apple should take into consideration the ethical implications of its decision to cooperate with the FBI in other types of criminal activity. He argued that Apple should consider the consequences of its decision on its customers’ privacy, safety, and well-being. Ultimately, Nielsen concluded that while Apple has a moral responsibility to assist the FBI in criminal activity, it should carefully consider the ethical implications of its decision before doing so. (Nielsen, 2018).
The implications of Apple refusing to help the FBI in cases involving drug trafficking was explored by A Etzioni in their 2018 article published in the Journal of Business Ethics. Etzioni suggested that Apple’s refusal to provide technical assistance to the FBI was wrong. They argued that by refusing to comply, Apple was not just disregarding the authority of the FBI, but it was also disregarding the rights of the victims of drug trafficking. Furthermore, Etzioni argued that this decision was in direct opposition to the company’s stated commitment to ethical business practices. They further argued that Apple’s refusal to cooperate with the FBI was a sign of corporate irresponsibility and that it could have serious implications for the safety of citizens and the fight against drug trafficking. They concluded that Apple should reconsider their stance on this issue and cooperate with the FBI in cases involving drug trafficking as they have a moral obligation to do so.
This debate is difficult to answer definitively, as our moral and ethical obligations regarding privacy and security vary depending on the case. On one hand, we can argue that in cases of terrorism and mass shooting, Apple has an obligation to the many innocent people affected by such tragedies, but on the other hand, creating a “backdoor” that would allow access into iPhones could potentially threaten the security of all its users globally. While it is ultimately up to Apple in cases such as this, it is important to consider the impact each decision can have on personal, global, and governmental security. In the event of a situation involving drug trafficking, the ethical implications become more ambiguous since it is less of a clear-cut terrorist threat, as in the case of San Bernardino. Ultimately, it is every individual’s responsibility to weigh the impacts of Apple’s decision before forming a conclusion.
Work Cited
“National Security or Consumer Privacy A Question Even Siri Couldn’t Answer.”
“Ethical and legal First Amendment implications of FBI v. Apple: A commentary on Etzioni’s ‘Apple: Good business, poor citizen?’.”
“Apple: Good business, poor citizen?.”



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