Relevant Differences

There is a concept in philosophy called relevant difference.  Basically, this means that a principle must hold across cases unless there is a relevant difference between the cases.  So, if you believe that boys and girls should be treated equally, but you make your son do outdoor chores (mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow) and your daughter do indoor chores (doing laundry, washing dishes, vacuuming), you are doing something wrong.  Either you do not believe that boys and girls should be treated equally or you don’t know what it means to treat them equally.  The only way out of this is to find a relevant difference between boys and girls that would justify the difference in treatment.  Perhaps you live on a steep hill and your daughter lacks the physical strength to push the lawnmower.  If there is no such relevant difference, you should start having your son and daughter both do all of the indoor and outdoor chores.
I bring this up because of the current spat between Apple and the FBI.  In case you haven’t heard, the FBI recovered an iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter.  The FBI wants access to the phone as part of their investigation.  They went to a judge and got a warrant.  They want Apple’s help, but Apple is refusing.  This is where relevant difference comes in.  The whole technology industry is acting like the FBI is doing something wrong, but I can’t see a relevant difference between this and any other search warrant the FBI uses.  If law enforcement has probable cause, they can get a warrant to search a person’s home, car, office, computer, financial records, credit reports, bank accounts and even a person’s body.  There is a process in place to protect the innocent.  Law enforcement needs to prove to a judge that there is good reason to believe that the search is necessary and that the search will yield important information.  So, what I want to know is why does Apple think that iPhones are different than homes, cars, bank accounts or peoples’ bodies.  They don’t seem to be more private or more sensitive or less likely to yield important information.  I suppose that Apple may believe that all government investigations are wrong.  Then they wouldn’t need a relevant difference.  They could just be using this instance to make a general point.  I find that hard to believe, though.  Maybe someone should do some corporate espionage* using an Android and see if Apple sticks to their principles when the FBI tries to get a warrant to search that phone.

*This is, of course, a joke.  I am not encouraging anyone to do anything illegal, even if Apple would defend me when I tried to hide the evidence on my iPad.

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