Apple’s stance to prevent a back-door from unlocking iPhones in case of a crime is much more than what it appears to be. Apple’s resistance to allowing the F.B.I. access to phone decryption is about the role and power of technology vis-a-vis the role and power of the government. This conflict is the ultimate showdown of who subjugates to who.
Does technology subjugate to the government, or does government subjugate to technology?
My viewpoint as a life-long technologist with an ever-growing altruistic agenda is clear. Technology must subjugate to the government. For the sake of a much-improved democracy induced by challenges posed to the government, that is. Allow me to explain myself.
I welcome Apple’s challenge to our government. For it exposes some severe flaws in the foundation of our democracy, which if guided correctly, will lead to an accelerated improvement of our democracy. The debate will also force governments to understand the evolving needs of a vibrant society better and help technology companies finally pay attention to a plurality of freedom, not of their own making.
Failings of government
First, despite my position above, I must emphasize I am not a big or blind fan of the role and performance of government in past judgments regarding technology (or elsewhere). To name a few major ones:
The FCC destroyed the free-market of mobile telephony networks by allowing AT&T to lock its SIM cards to its network only (by default), the antithesis of what the technology protocol GSM was designed to enable. Such major misjudgment has prevented that the United States could by now have been blanketed with cell phone coverage through competing networks (large and small) into even the most remote areas. The government’s decision is responsible for not only the destruction of public value and healthy network competition but also endangering public safety and security.
Our government (FTC jurisdiction I assume) also allowed Apple’s price-fixing scheme of music (with other media to follow) to take root, first at $0.99 and then at $1.29. While anyone with a basic understanding of economics should know price-fixing is a violation of the free-market principles, we stand for and preach. It erodes the ability for artists to price and sell their assets the way they wish, and it commoditizes the value of those assets to consumers. All while Apple gets to play favoritism with the assets it prefers to control or has a stake in. Another example of our government asleep at the wheel of creative destruction.
I can name many other instances that would make you cringe about how legislative leaders failed to lay the foundation for its agencies to protect and stimulate public value. And I cannot blame the individual agencies for operating independently and without cross-departmental consistency or oversight absent of a higher-order framework and principles establishing the rules of the road.
Failings of technology
In all fairness, the performance of the technology industry leaves a lot to be desired too:
The state of information security is a complete and utter mess, putting both public and private-sector assets at significant risk. A self-perpetuating inefficiency of the technology industry providing even more excessive valuations than the innovation to which it pertains. Induced by a pageantry of false positivity surrounding open-source software development, allowing virtually anyone with rudimentary programming skills to exploit the fragmented and convoluted technology stacks used by all. To wit, my information-security friends claim to be able to hack into any bank-account and transfer money in less than 20 minutes.
Facebook, as the largest of public services provided over the internet, deploys a totalitarian regime of social interaction, socialism pur sang, with people’s minds blanketed with an unstoppable barrage of group-think, yielding an ever-narrowing mindset of populism infused, controlled and manipulated by advertising schemes. Quite the opposite of a tool designed to expand the creative differences that help the evolution of humanity evolve to the best of its ability. Not all technology put on top of the internet and sold as revolutionary in a wave of omnipresent distribution is worth its bill of goods.
I can name many more instances of technology’s grand yet flawed promise to societal betterment, sold to greater-fools for the selfish purpose of driving up valuations to make a buck. So do not get me started.
The point is, the argument that the government is not doing its job can easily be countered by the fact many technologies equally damage societal values. Each party calling the kettle black is not the exchange of arguments we should carry forward, the number of endless debates passing like ships in the night towards non-compromising destinations.
With partisan bickering tossed aside, the real question becomes how we can secure freedom, including our inalienable right to communicate freely.
Living in the United States as the self-proclaimed leader of the free world it astounds me to read and hear about the many lofty proclamations of, profound allegiances to, and proud self-assigned guardianships of freedom, lacking any proper prior definition on what constitutes freedom. Void of such meaning we can all be the keeper of our interpretation of freedom, or can we?
Not quite. Each of us carrying only our torch of freedom will take us back to the anarchy of pillage and plunder, with the extinction of the early human race about one million years ago as its impending result. Since then, we have learned – the hard way – the promotion of our survival and freedom must be paired with the protection of our collective freedom. For our evolution as a species is predicated on the development of ourselves in conjunction with our solidarity to others.
Freedom – in reality – is a relativity theory combining the needs of our individual ideals of freedom with the needs of our collective ideals of freedom. A set of collective ideals that can vary from country to country, paired with the individual ideals of their inhabitants, to each his own.
The stance of our government and Apple each appear in blissful ignorance of such relativity of freedom and the cooperation it requires. Their arguments would make one believe the world is flat again. 2D where 3D is needed, absolutism galore where relativity is needed.
It does not help our government, responsible for the protection of our collective freedom, is known to overreach and “nanny-state” its way through all our freedoms. While Apple as the self-assigned protector of individual freedom of its customers appears to want to have a say in how our individual and collective freedoms are to be protected conjointly, I blame such bidirectional overreach directly on the misunderstanding of what constitutes real freedom.
The beauty of it all
The most exciting part of this debate is how it shines new light on the much-needed integrity and excellence of modern-day democracies and the freedoms bestowed therein. A need I anticipated six years ago when I began writing my book on Renewable Economics™, with my version of Einstein’s theory of relativity applied to freedom as its foundational thesis.
I fully understand and appreciate Apple’s interest in wanting to provide and maintain high levels of privacy to its customers. But Apple uses rather cheap fear-mongering, tied to our innate disdain for government interference, to overplay the privacy concerns and security risks already much more significant in many other aspects of our daily lives. Because we hold our government responsible for the protection of our collective freedom, Apple must subjugate to the government in providing reasonable, court-ordered means of protection of collective freedom. Not in the least because human evolution has taught us no freedom can exist without the protection of collective freedom aimed to support we all remain free.
At the same time, and brought to the fore thanks to Apple’s considerable economic might, the argument on the balance of privacy and freedom serves as a fantastic conduit to merely hold the role, responsibility and protection of collective freedom by the government to public account, and if need be, secure reaffirmation by voters.
While for now, this case centers around how we in the U.S. interpret the balance between individual and collective freedom, one must not assume other nations will blindly adopt the outcome of this case. A sign of respect for the world must be met with many unique compositions of free countries around the world have a sovereign right to deploy. Again using the lessons of evolution learned, technology companies must begin to realize their algorithms can no longer assume and implement a monism of freedom or any other totalitarian dogma of innovation to the world.
The challenge before us is to implement more advanced principles of freedom, away from its stubborn bronze-age absolutism towards dynamic relativity of freedom capable of encircling and embracing the multidimensional diversity and ingenuity of our world.
Count me in to provide advisory.