FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dark Spots, Light Spots, and Apple’s Protest

by

How’s this for bad choices?  A recent study by a Harvard group contended with the position of US intelligence agencies that tracking possible terrorists was becoming more difficult because there are too many “dark spots”—places where data can be encrypted to prevent tracking.  Harvard “reassured” the FBI, CIA, and others that new technologies embedded in common objects will provide (or already provide) plenty of additional tracking opportunities.  What are these?  How about toothbrushes, toys (yes, Barbie dolls), television, and light bulbs, just for starters?  These are the “Internet of things,” in the cute phrase of one law professor quoted in the article above.  But let’s just call them light spots.

I suppose we are intended to feel comforted by the thought that we’re safe on both ends of the surveillance machine—the intelligence community’s and the corporations’.  Obviously, those of us who are still worrying about how Facebook, Google, and Amazon—the Big Three of Social Monitoring—keep us (and the authorities) in their sights are not thinking ahead.  We have already surrendered our privacy to them by signing up every day for their services, and by standing by while they willy-nilly transfer data to government agencies.

Europe’s national regulators, as distinct from the European Commission, suspect that the latest US-EU “Privacy Shield” agreement on personal data transfer does not adequately safeguard privacy.  All 28 EU member-states must sign off on the agreement for it to take effect.  They want assurances that Europeans’ private information will not find its way into the hands of US intelligence services.  I doubt the Big Three will provide them.  And if they do, who would believe them?

Like most Europeans, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, believes that some dark spots deserve protection.  Reminding us that we the consumer are “the product” and not really the customer when it comes to tracking of our likes and dislikes by Facebook et al., Cook has emerged as a stout defender of privacy against the demands of the FBI in the San Bernardino terrorism case. He so far has rejected the US government’s demand, backed by a court decision, to unlock Apple smart phones in order to access one terrorist’s data.  Correctly, Cook sees surrendering to this request as having the potential to open the floodgates, allowing either the government or criminals to gain backdoor entry to people’s private information.  Cynics might say that he really wants to protect Apple’s proprietary encryption software, which evidently is much stronger than Google’s and the other giants’.  And clearly, Cook is concerned about the integrity of the Apple brand.  But motives aside, Cook’s action is laudable.

Interestingly, Cook’s impassioned defense of privacy has detractors and fence-sitters in the high-tech community.  Everyone among them want to protect their security systems.  But those companies which, like the Big Three, rely on Internet advertising and personal data entries to monitor tastes and movements will be loath to support Cook’s tough stand—all the more so if they have contracts with police departments and federal agencies, such as Amazon’s with the CIA and Microsoft’s with the Department of Defense.  But those which, like Apple, mainly sell hardware are likely to support him.

In the end, Apple may have to concede at least to providing the specific data the FBI is demanding.  But let’s not lose sight of the core issue. We’re all in a bitter struggle to preserve our freedom of thought and movement against the rising tide of security-firsters who will forever contend that sacrificing our privacy is necessary if we are to erase the dark spots.  By their logic, 1984 is finally here, and embedding security (i.e., surveillance) chips in toothbrushes, children’s toys, and everywhere else The Enemy might lurk is both necessary and proper. You’d better consider flossing regularly and having your kids play with sticks and stones.  Barbie is watching, and even Tim Cook can’t stop her.

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Fearsome: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail