My Coffee, My Dad and Apple

Apple versus the FBI, I wonder what my dad’s position would be? My dad was a cryptologist before he retired. This week, I had a “reach for the phone moment.” Before he died, I’d grab a cup of coffee,  call my dad and we’d debate issues citing references, articles and philosophical thought. Our talks were an opportunity to discuss important things we’d typically avoid in the workplace or polite company. This was an opportunity for each of us to change our minds. Spoiler alert, I agree with Apple.

Apple versus FBI, in the moment, it may seem like a simple case of yes or no, but the reality is very different. It should be noted that the authorities inadvertently reset the Apple ID passcode. What’s the long term impact if Apple is forced to bypass security on the phone? There will be unintended consequences. Sociologist Robert Merton defined three types of causes of unintended consequences.

  1. Unexpected benefit: A positive, unexpected benefit
  2. Unexpected drawback: A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy
  3. Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended, when an intended solution makes a problem worse.

Forced compliance will set precedence. Will court of public opinion is vulnerable to immediate interest which neglects consideration of longer term? AT this time, it appears opinion is sharply divided. This is a very complex issue. I live in California where in 1994, proposition 184 was passed, better known as three strikes, imposing mandatory sentencing. The intent was to reduce crime. The current data shows no difference in the crime rates of those states with 3 strikes legislation and those without. It appears the three strikes law has done nothing to improve public safety.  It has increased the prison population.

California and Washington are two states that implemented three strikes legislation at approximately the same time. A National Institute of Justice review found that California had 300 times the number of inmates as the state of Washington.  That’s huge difference that is not explained by population difference. If the prison population followed the demographic percentages, California would have 5.5 more prisoners than the state of Washington. California 300 times more inmates is due the toughness of California’s 3 strike legislation versus Washington State’s legislation. Hence a new problem, overcrowded prisons.

In April of 2001, plaintiffs filed suit in Brown (formerly Schwarzenegger) v. Plata. Claiming that the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s medical services are inadequate due to severe prison overcrowding in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This month, almost fifteen years later, a time which has included a three judge ruling, a Supreme Court Decision and proposition 47 (a law passed to reduce prison overcrowding) marks the deadline California was given to reduce prison overcrowding to 137% of capacity.

What seemed like a logical law to promote public safety through mandatory sentencing, had negligible impact on crime rate reduction and unleashed a complex legal battle, inhuman prison conditions and budget challenges. Apple versus the FBI seems like a simple request in the name of public safety. In a world of causes of unintended consequences, this is nothing to be taken lightly. I don’t know what my Dad would say. Of course, he’d challenge me on my facts and interpretation. Ultimately, my argument isn’t about breaking into one iPhone, but the precedence it would set and the unintended consequences. Much like I have no idea what my dad say. I have no idea how this will end up, but it is worth a conversation and a respectful exchange of thought.






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