Unlocking iPhones Will Not Defeat ISIS

So there has been quite a stir lately over Apple refusing to comply with a court order to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook insists this will compromise the encryption of its users’ phone, and hence their security and privacy. Others feel it is reasonable to do, and Donald Trump lambasted Apple for its position, promising to boycott their products. (Yet again, I have managed to work Donald Trump into a column.)

But there is one matter in the debate that has been overlooked: ISIS banned all use of Apple products.

According to a document posted by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Daesh actually issued a prohibition back in December 2014. The rationale was that Apple products, and any other products with GPS, would be susceptible to tracking by enemy forces. Why they felt Apple was disproportionately vulnerable is unclear.

ISIS fighter Israfil Yilmaz confirmed this on Tumblr, where he maintained an account openly and took questions.

“This is true, I had to sell my wife’s iPhone,” said Yilmaz.

For that matter, ISIS has begun promoting use of other, non-American encryption products to help cover their tracks. (And of course, they often do things right out in the open.)

But is there merit, for law enforcement in general, to unlock phones? After all, Farook may have been an ISIS sympathizer but was either unaware of or disregarded the ban on Apple products. Of course, it so happens that the iPhone in dispute was actually his work phone and he and his fiancee destroyed other phones in their possession.

Nevertheless, just as bombing oil fields will not defeat ISIS, neither will Apple unlocking iPhones. So no one should resort to rhetoric implying that Apple is abetting Daesh in any way.