Teaching the Apple v. FBI Controversy

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I wanted to take a quick break from our tour of the third edition of Emerging to discuss how to teach the current controversy between Apple and the FBI.  As I write this post, the standoff between the two continues, with the FBI attempting to force Apple into helping them to gain access to the iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, whose shooting spree killed over a dozen people in San Benardino, and Apple resolutely refusing to cooperate.

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To provide students some background on the issues involved, you might ask them to read the letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook, which stakes out Apple’s position and its perception of what’s at stake, as well as the statement from FBI Director James Comey, which presents the FBI’s position on the matter.  These two documents are useful texts for analysis in and of themselves, played out as they are on national media stages.  And it’s also useful for students to consider the ways in which the specific positions of each side have been managed, marketed, repackaged, and flattened into simplistic questions of privacy and security.

Emerging does offer a fantastic reading to help students explore this issue: Peter Singer’s “Visible Man; Ethics in a World without Secrets.” Singer’s essay has a bit of theoretical weight to it, opening with Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon and invoking the concept of “sousveillance” as well.  At the heart of Singer’s essay, though, is the question of privacy in relation to changing technology and questions of security—the very questions at the heart of the Apple v. FBI debate.  For Singer, the solution to some of these issues is for the watched to watch the watchers.  WikiLeaks is his example in that case.  And while that probably isn’t a solution in this current case, Singer’s thinking nevertheless foregrounds these vital issues and offers students tools to think through the complexities.

Give it a try.  I think you’ll find it works great.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.