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The Power of Good Communications

Apple vs. FBI

A historical battle between law enforcement and technology companies that has raged on over the past few weeks has finally come to an end. This is because the high-profile legal dispute between the FBI and Apple is finally over. The FBI managed to unlock the iPhone used by one the San Bernardino terrorists without Apple’s help. Yesterday, the Justice Department said it successfully retrieved the data from the phone with a third party tool, and asked the court to vacate its order for Apple’s assistance.

In mid-February, the FBI said it was unable to access encrypted data on the iPhone 5c of one of the suspected terrorists, and a California magistrate ordered Apple to help by creating a new software tool. Essentially, because the phone was set up to wipe all the data off the device after 10 wrong attempts of the phone’s password, the FBI wanted Apple to create new software that could be loaded onto the phone to disable this feature. Apple’s concern was that if they developed software to override the encryption, this security bypass could become widely available or be used by the government in a variety of circumstances.

CNet offers a great explanation of the backdoor that the FBI wanted Apple software engineers to create, and why they needed it.

As the legal battle between the FBI and Apple unfolded, so did the publicity war. The FBI argued that Apple’s assistance in unlocking the iPhone could help provide justice for the victims of the shooting, by potentially uncovering information about others involved and the events leading up to it. Apple maintained the FBI’s demands threatened customers’ privacy and undermines the trust and confidence that people place in their iPhones. Technology companies across the globe agreed.

The end of this legal standoff means that no legal precedent gets set for the scope of government’s power to compel an unwilling company to cooperate in an investigation, for instance, by writing special new software as in Apple’s case. However, there is much to be learned from Apple’s approach. Given the widespread public anxiety about terrorism, the overwhelming support received by Apple from businesses and consumers demonstrates the power of good communications.

Public pressure to support legislation that would force tech companies to create back doors was overwhelmed by Apple’s well-oiled PR machine that loudly communicated the importance of civil liberties. Apple made its message about you and your private information. By turning the focus away from the FBI whispers of a tech giant abetting terrorists, to the loud and clear message of putting customers first, Apple’s strategy resulted in a marketing win.

The Apple vs. FBI case is an attestation to the importance that the public places on their privacy interests. By sticking to their commitment to privacy, Apple was able to protect their privacy image. The importance of clarity, openness and remaining true to your business values when managing a privacy crisis or a public relations issue is something all businesses should take away from this case.

For assistance with your privacy messaging and communications efforts, contact PRIVATECH. We have assisted numerous organizations demonstrate their commitment to privacy proactively, and at the time of a crisis or data breach.