When tThe FBI wants access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone data, prompting we are facing a conflict between the public interest to gain security and protection, on one hand and the concern over privacy and the right to encrypt personal data for yourself on the other hand.

I try wWhen there is a new challenge or dilemma, I try to think what others before us would have done. What would Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, the Romans or Benjamin Franklin do? Naturally, there is no way I clearly can understand their thought processes, but it helps to create clarity by using the approaches from earlier leaders.  

So let’s throw this question back to World War II and the FDR era. Assume that a German submarine was captured and the vessel is boarded, it is during the peak of the German submarine warfare in the Northern Atlantic in 1941-1942. Thanks to our time machine, Using the time machine all the German sailors have iPhones that have been locked for privacy reasons by the American manufacturer. Inside one or two of these iPhones are the orders from Adm.iral Karl Dönitz, the German commander of submarines in the Nazi-Germany Navy. These phones also include There is are also detailed information such as rendezvous points with submarine tenders, information about rally points for German submarine "wolf packs," and German intelligence about which Allied convoys are identified and tracked.     

Would privacy cross the minds of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the U.S. Adm.iral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations in 1942 in the midst of war?  to consider the privacy argument? If cracking the iPhones' encryption in the iPhones would jeopardize all other users’ privacy, would it stop FDR from demanding access to the data?   

It is nNot likely at all. So what is the difference with the nation being at war in 1942 and 2016? Naturally, this is a generalization and there is a spectrum of different angles that would challenge the justification for a defending state to get access to enemy information.

Let’s then say that during the World War II German and American stores sold private ENIGMA-machines, the encryption devices utilized by German submarines to communicate with their fleet commander in Germany and the regular citizens used these them ENIGMA-machines to encrypt their private correspondence. (I understand that ENIGMA-machines were mechanical, but go with seethe analogy.) Would it change anything? No, there would still be an overriding national security interest that , which benefitted all citizens, compared to the limited benefit for a minority of ENIGMA-users, which created an increased risk for the citizenry and the nation. 

Privacy is important in a liberal democracy as a demarcation between private and public sphere, and should be safeguarded. but it is a vital interest among others and in competition Privacy, however, cannot be the Golden Calf of cyber and the default first concern. There are other vital interests in play — and maybe in the past, we were better able to separate the real issues from the noise.

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist with the website cyberdefense.com.