To say that Apple Inc. is an interesting company is to understate the company’s position in the 21st century. Apple prospers yet is attacked from many directions at once. The company holds a strong position in the traditional PC industry, a strong position in the smartphone industry, a strong position in streaming music, application sales and distribution, media sales and distribution, and, more than any other technology company, Apple is at the forefront of personal privacy and security.
Apple has taken a stand on the side of privacy and security, willing to risk the wrath of the U.S. government (not to mention governments elsewhere around the world which would be emboldened to take away privacy and security from their citizens should Apple not prevail) to defend a customer’s right to withhold information from government search and seizure.
What’s this all about? Power.
Does power belong to the people? Or, does power belong to those elected by the people?
The issue isn’t really that black and white. It’s logical and plausible that citizens give up some rights so the government can protect them from danger. That’s why we cannot use ‘freedom of speech’ to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre or auditorium when there is no fire. Part of the issue is how much power should a government have, and to what reaches shall it go to protect its citizens? That there is a public dialog over this issue of privacy and security and the government’s legal ability to search a citizen’s personal effects with or without cause is more about the power that government officials want, ostensibly to do their jobs well, and about how much power citizens are willing to give to elected officials and the government itself.
As is often the case, I don’t expect this issue to be fully resolved by a number of trips to the courts, but if ever there was a case that needed the Supreme Court’s undivided attention– and quickly– it’s this issue about personal privacy and security; Apple vs. the U.S. government.
The so-called All Writs Act is the angle the government is using to compel Apple to do its bidding. Whether Apple can or cannot technically provide the government with the individual access it demands is not the issue. Does the government have the right to make such demands? Freedom of speech may be the angle Apple uses to thwart the government’s requests because the government does not have the right to compel a citizen to specific speech, and, technically speaking, computer code is speech.
After all, thanks to Citizen’s United and a divided U.S. Supreme Court, corporations are people, too, and may be subject to the same laws as citizens, but ostensibly, may have the same recourse. For now, the U.S. Supreme Court remains divided and may be unable to render a decisive ruling when the issue reaches the court.
But don’t be deceived about privacy and security issues and the differing opinions on what each may mean both to government and citizen.
This issue is all about power.