As you may have heard, the Federal Government has ordered the Apple Corporation to “unlock” the iPhone of the terrorist who killed 14 people in San Bernadino last December, in the hopes of discovering who else may have planned the attack. The government says they only want information from a single phone, while Apple insists the government really wants access to all phones, in violation of everyone’s privacy rights.
Defending their position during a recent court hearing, lawyers for Apple claimed, “According to the government, the courts can order private parties to do virtually anything the Justice Department and FBI can dream up. The Founders would be appalled.”
That last sentence got me wondering. Would America’s Founding Fathers really be “appalled” by this case? Imagine that we’re able to gather the following people in a room: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and James Madison. Then a lawyer for Apple begins to plead his case: “Gentlemen, the Federal Government demands that the Apple Corporation unlock the iPhone of the man who committed a terrorist act. You are APPALLED by this, aren’t you?”
“Excuse me, young man,” George Washington says. “This Apple Corporation of which you speak, is that a fruit orchard in the Catskill region of New York state?”
“No no,” the lawyer replies. “It’s a technology company in California. They make computers and iPhones and iPads.”
The four men glance at each other, silently mouth the question “California?” and shrug their shoulders. Finally, Ben Franklin speaks. “I invented bifocals, but I am ignorant of eye-foams and eye-packs. Do these items improve one’s vision?”
The lawyer pauses, then reaches into his briefcase. “Here’s the best way to explain it.” He turns on his iPad and hands the device to Thomas Jefferson. “It’s an iPad,” the lawyer says. “You can surf the Internet, check email, watch YouTube. It’s awesome.”
The meeting is interrupted as the four Founding Fathers leap to their feet and scream like school girls. Jefferson drops the device to the floor, causing the screen to crack. “I owe the people of Salem, Massachusetts, a sincere apology!” our nation’s third president yells. “There is indeed witchcraft present in the world after all!”
An hour later, after order is restored (and after Mr. Franklin has drained an entire bottle of brandy by himself, for medicinal purposes only, of course), the lawyer resumes his argument and says, “Here’s the bottom line: the government wants us to turn over private communication between citizens. You are appalled, right?”
James Madison asks, “Is the communication with quill and ink on parchment?”
“No,” the lawyer says. “It’s mostly text messages. Here, let me show you.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his iPhone. “Um, I’ll hold onto it, if you don’t mind,” he says. “Text messaging is a lot like quill and ink and parchment, except there isn’t any quill or ink or parchment. Instead, there’s lots of zeros and ones flying through Cyberspace. But it’s private communication, so you are appalled, correct?”
George Washington takes a deep breath and says, “Young man, I cannot honestly say the word ‘appalled’ applies here. A better word might be ‘baffled,’ ‘bewildered,’ or ‘befuddled.’”
Thomas Jefferson, who has been quietly tapping his fingers on the cracked iPad, looks up and says, “What is this I’m reading here about ‘Trump vs. Hillary’ for U.S. president?” He shows the iPad to the other three men, who study the images intently.
Finally, the four men stare sternly at the lawyer. Ben Franklin points toward the iPad and says, “This current election of yours is a situation where the word ‘appalled’ truly applies. We sacrificed everything to leave you a vibrant nation. What the hell happened to it?!”