Apple vs the FBI: Consequences vs Rights & Duties

business_ethics_highlights_2The story linked below focuses on the fact that Apple’s has two good reasons for refusing to work with the FBI to unlock a shooting suspect’s iPhone, namely a principled reason (privacy) and a prudential reason (boosting profits by boosting its reputation as a champion of privacy). But this case also demonstrates a classic distinction taught in all business ethics classrooms: the tension between the obligation to try to do what will do the most good in the world (produce the best outcomes for all) and the obligation to adhere to certain principles or duties. In this case, critics of Apple think the company should help the FBI, in order to produce a good outcome — namely, to help prosecute a killer. On the other hand, those who applaud Apple are doing so because Apple is helping promote and protect a widespread respect for the right to privacy. Some people think outcomes are all that matter; others think life is all a matter of principle. Most of us think the two must be balanced. How would you balance the two in this case? >>>

LINK: Apple’s Noble Stand Against the FBI is Also Great Business (by Klint Finley for Wired)

…some of Apple’s most crucial buyers may be seriously put off if Apple complies with the FBI’s request, namely large corporate customers and consumers outside the US. The consensus among security researchers is that building a back door for law enforcement will make Apple’s products inherently less secure, says Gartner analyst Peter Firstbrook. “The iPhone is the preferred mobile phone for security,” he says. “I’m not sure if this particular move would affect enterprise sales, but anything they do to reduce security would be negatively appreciated.”….

What do you think?


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2 comments

  1. Arguments can run the other way, too: Apple (and others, including Google) think the consequences of complying with the FBI’s demands are bad (because of the precedent it sets and the bad outcomes it can be used to accomplish—the relevant consequences are not merely the immediately sought ones). The government thinks the All Writs Act settles the relevant rights (the Government’s, to Apple’s assistance) and duties (Apple’s, to render assistance to the government).

  2. Yes, and so there will be disagreement even AMONG Apple’s supporters as to WHY they think Apple is doing the right thing: is the precedent dangerous because it would have bad (distant) consequences, or because it would contribute to rights violations? This is one of the reasons that questions about *foundations* have to be asked, even in the face of ethical *agreement.*

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