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A single phone now, but will that remain the case in the future?

Should any of our readers in North Carolina or elsewhere care much about the current Apple-versus-government legal snafu that is playing out regarding the latter's demand that Apple engineers unlock a single smartphone so that investigators can track the phone's history?

We believe that many persons who follow our blog might reasonably care very much about the ongoing spat, which is now before a federal tribunal and might ultimately end up being decided by the United States Supreme Court.

Here's the story, in a nutshell. FBI agents currently possess an Apple iPhone formerly owned by one of the now-deceased shooters in the tragic San Bernardino terrorist incident that resulted in 14 deaths late last year.

Those investigators can't unlock it. The phone's contents are safeguarded -- as is similarly the case with millions of other iPhones -- by computer code that is highly complex and set up to lock permanently after 10 failed attempts to properly guess its passcode. Even Apple does not know the passcodes of any of its phone purchasers.

Apple says that, while a team of technicians can crack a phone code with some effort, the company flatly won't undertake that effort, notwithstanding a government demand that it do so.

Apple argues that the issue far transcends a government attempt to access proprietary data from only a single phone. Rather, it compromises the privacy rights of every single phone buyer. The case is not about one device, argues Apple in a recent filing. Instead, it is about an unprecedented and unlawful attempt by government authorities to undermine the very Constitution and the free speech rights afforded under it in the First Amendment.

In essence, Apple is saying that allowing even a single and limited exception for government to sabotage those rights -- in a shooting-related matter, a search for drug evidence or any other context -- will create a slippery slope and dangerous precedent in the future.

Some of our readers with Apple phones -- or virtually any other technology-driven tool they routinely use for personal reasons -- might readily emphasize with Apple's stance as they consider how they would feel knowing that government agents could routinely override their privacy controls and gain access to their most privileged information.

We will keep readers updated on this important privacy-related case.

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Law Office of Christopher A. Connelly
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