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In the wake of Congress passing the USA Freedom Act Ed Snowden composed an editorial piece that appeared in the New York Times. There are aspects of this article that may surprise those who’ve followed events since Snowden first went public two years back.
For example, Ed referred to the bill as a “historic victory” though there are skeptics in the peanut gallery like your author who would call it theater. That is, an attempt to codify otherwise expired measures which have been of little use according to their stated purpose. The USA Freedom Act provides the opportunity for elected officials in Washington to do a victory lap and boast that they’ve implemented restructuring while former American spies, with a knowing wink, understand that what’s actually been instituted is “hardly major change.”
Moving onward through his laudatory communiqué, Ed warns that hi tech companies “are being pressured by governments around the world to work against their customers rather than for them.” He opted not to say who was being leaned on.
But wait, he did mention a name. It’s just that, in this specific case, it was in the context of a product placement for one of the world’s largest technical companies. Here’s the excerpt:
“Basic technical safeguards such as encryption — once considered esoteric and unnecessary — are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private”
Let’s consider for a moment the underlying assumptions inherent to this narrative. The messaging scheme at work is one which allows business leaders to channel public outrage by depicting corporations as unwilling partners who’ve every intention of protecting the privacy of their users instead of knowingly cavort with spies.
CEO’s like Tim Cook have gone so far as to publicly scold their industry for monetizing user data. Specifically, in a speech delivered at an event hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center Cook stated:
“They’re [tech companies] gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Hold it right there.
Keep in mind that Apple is a colossal multinational company. It has no qualms about collecting information on users, using slave labor to save a buck, stockpiling profits overseas to avoid paying taxes, giving companies like Google unencumbered access to its user base, participating in a wage-fixing cartel, or cooperating with the NSA when executives (who chatted up spymasters on a first-name basis) thought that they could get away with it.
Can a profit-driven monolith like Apple be trusted to do the right thing when it’s just as easy to secretly continue doing otherwise? If we’ve learned anything from the Snowden revelations it’s that intelligence services exist primarily to pursue the interests of private capital. Why not have their cake and eat it too? Assuage the public with encryption marketing pitches and then bury their collusion even deeper. Issues like “trust” in the corridors of the C-suites are usually viewed as a mere public relations issue.
Apple wouldn’t lie to us again, right?
Bill Blunden is a journalist whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” and“Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.