The public feud between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning the security of Apple devices is not going to end quickly. Regardless of the facts, there will not be a single undisputed winner in this debate despite the fact that both sides have very strong cases for their positions. No matter the outcome, the financial services and mortgage industries face monumental changes affecting how we conduct business.
Protecting customer privacy (in this case, their financial information) is at the very foundation of why we have regulations and business processes in place. The possibility that customer information could be compromised or accessed via mobile devices has the potential to limit or walk back any progress we have established within the industry for using these devices.
Several companies have already developed various products to allow ease of mobile device management for corporations, commonly called MDM. Unlocking a mobile phone falls perfectly within the realm of MDM, and with this in mind, it's hard to accept Apple's argument that it cannot unlock their phones.
Additionally, any information that Apple stores on its iCloud is already retrievable by Apple and the Fed (using court orders). Apple, by default, encourages the use of iCloud to every iPhone user. So, Apple — who says that a phone has the potential for a great privacy breach — should apply the same principal to the iCloud.
Every development company knows the excruciating detail required by Apple as a condition of being listed in the Apple store. I do not think God could bypass the intense level of scrutiny Apple performs on apps before they are offered to their customers. That being the case, it stands to reason that Apple already has addressed the security concerns of the corporate world while still respecting the privacy of the individual.
What the FBI is requesting does not stray too far away from what is typically requested from the corporate world in similar situations, such as an employee with a company phone leaving without a proper exit. Apple loses by not acknowledging that this request is not as far-fetched as some people think.
Now, based on what the media has reported, after immediately regaining possession of the device in question, the first thing the FBI did was change the iCloud password and retrieve data through a specific date. If an agency bypasses the standard method of retrieving information using unauthorized means, then it has no right to ask for help when it gets stuck in that process.
Apple has made a great mistake by making this a public issue. At this stage, both parties have to defend their positions. When it comes to issues concerning privacy and security, lines are prone to blur very quickly, which can prove to be problematic for everyone involved. As a result of going public with this issue, Apple has closed the door for any kind of compromise, which puts them in a losing position regardless of what they ultimately decide.
Here are a few scenarios to consider:
Apple wins the privacy battle. Winning on the grounds of privacy will cost Apple government business. It's almost certain that each government agency will start re-evaluating its use of Apple devices moving forward. Apple could blame the lack of proper MDM enforcement; however, at the end of the day, agency leaders must weigh the risk, especially when Apple is becoming more of a problem than a solution. They will certainly reflect on it, and it will not be good for a company that is trying to become a dominant force in the corporate world.
Apple loses the privacy battle. If Apple loses the battle and is legally compelled to unlock the phone, the company will have to go into brand reputation damage control and determine what to do to assure customers the company can be trusted to protect their privacy. Certain institutions, such as businesses within the financial industry, may begin to lose trust in third-party apps designed and expected to provide an extra layer of security to protect users' sensitive information. In turn, users will become hesitant to even endorse apps, which could result in an overall negative outcome for the financial industry, as well as Apple in general. Years of progress could be dismantled with one decision.
Apple and the Feds find a middle ground. Though both parties may celebrate a temporary win, they both will also lose on the international front. Other nations will start to demand a similar compromise and Apple will notch another loss. Any time other countries gain access to secured technology, the U.S. government — which has taken great pride in restricting the export of sensitive technology — loses. If Apple or the U.S. government continue to refuse access to countries requesting the door be unlocked, providers from those countries will start to enjoy more market share from their own government and/or corporate business.
Make no mistake — whichever way this ends, there are no winners in this game.
Sanjeev Dahiwadkar is the chief executive officer of IndiSoft.