How Apple vs. the FBI would play out in Britain and France

The World
The dispute between Apple and security services might play out differently in Britain and France

In Britain, Apple would be forced to cooperate with the security services, and would be banned from discussing this with the media, according to privacy advocates.

Michaela Rehle

The legal tussle between the FBI and Apple over whether Apple is obliged to assist in hacking into a mass-murderer's iPhone has reignited America's ongoing debate of the balance between national security and individual rights.

Fourteen people were killed and 22 injured when gunman Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire last December in San Bernardino, California, claiming to be acting in support of ISIS. According to the FBI, being able to access the contents of Farook's phone is essential to their investigation, but so far they have been unable to do so.

They say they require Apple's assistance to do so — but Apple has objected. 

According to Gus Hosein, executive director of London-based pressure group Privacy International, the same issue is being approched in very different ways across Europe. In Britain, for example, legislation is currently under review that would allow the authorities to force Apple to cooperate. And even without that, it is unlikely that Apple would have been able to turn to the court of public opinion.

"It would have played out in secret," Hosein says. "That's the biggest difference between British practice and American practice. There's no court process invovled. It's a secret warrant signed by a minister — and Apple would be compelled to comply and would be gagged from speaking about it".

The European Union as a whole does have a framework of human rights legislation that would make compelling a private company to assist with hacking a phone more difficult, though, Hosein points out. But that has its own disadvantages, Hosein believes.

"Unfortunately, across Europe, because of the reliance on legal protections and human rights protections, the debates are not as rich as in the United States — there's very little debate," he says. 

In France, for example, two major terrorist attacks in Paris last year have change how people understand their privacy, Hosein beleives. "France has transformed as a country and there's very little pushing back as a country. And there's very little pushing back against some of the extraordinary powers being introduced."