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Apple, Surveillance Technology, and The Police State

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By Prof. Jon Kofas *

In the battle between a giant multinational corporation known for its record of tax evasion around the world as well as its hypocrisy of manufacturing in Asia not because of low wages but “talent availability”, APPLE is not yielding to the FBI/Justice Department request for hacking into the cell phones because the big winner will be SAMSUNG and the other ten largest cell phone companies in the world. APPLE has argued that the US government wants to unlock the cell phone that the shooters in the San Bernardino killings used. However, the goal of the US government under Obama claiming to be the protector of civil liberties is to gain access to all cell phones and carry out surveillance for all users at will.

This is not only a constitutional issue that essentially touches on the Fourth Amendment – right to privacy – but it also opens a Pandora’s box because other governments would demand same access as the US has. When it became known that the NSA was spying at home and abroad using the giant tech companies of Silicon Valley, the position of Obama administration officials was that foreigners were not protected under the Fourth Amendment, while US citizens needed to understand that national security is above their Constitutional rights.

On 16 February 2016, the US government convinced a California federal judge to have Apple reveal encryption security features in its cell phones. APPLE has been fighting back both with public opinion campaigns as well as using its lobbying efforts in Congress as a counterweight to the Justice Department. Because it is well known that APPLE along with GOOGLE and all major tech companies had secret agreements with the US government to conduct illegal surveillance at home and globally, it seems somewhat puzzling at this juncture why APPLE is fighting the Justice Department. Is APPLE so interested in protecting citizens for idealistic reasons, for the sake of furthering democracy, or is it simply a case of protecting its global market-share?

Thus far, no government in the world has made the kind of demands of APPLE that the US has made. However, the US of course invokes American Exceptionalism against the background of the “war on terror”, just as it invoked anti-Communism during the Cold War when civil liberties were readily trampled. However, that they are asking APPLE to provide code access to cell phones clearly indicates that the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department and the FBI have not been doing their jobs as effectively as they claim. Moreover, the question is where does surveillance stop? If there is no privacy of any kind, as we have discovered after the Edward Snowden revelations regarding National Security Agency violations of the Fourth Amendment, then why not suspend the Constitution altogether and declare a State of Emergency? Why go through the motions and the thin faced of a democratic society at all?

For APPLE the argument is hardly the constitutional rights of citizens but global market share. I repeat that if APPLE yields on this issue, the other twelve major cell phone makers in the world will prevail in the global market, most notably SAMSUNG. It is a myth that APPLE or any cell phone maker is concerned about privacy when these dozen large phone companies around the world have been violating the privacy of consumers for many years by illegally collecting and commercializing information of their users without their knowledge. APPLE along with SAMSUNG is among the biggest violators when it comes to privacy, so it stretches one’s imagination to come up with reasons why it is fighting the FBI/Justice Department now. If there was a financial incentive for APPLE to give the FBI what it wanted, it would have done as secretly as it collects information and never discloses it to its users. However, there is no incentive, but there is massive potential harm from the competition.

The America people know very well that their government violates the constitution in the name of national security and it does so randomly and not just in extreme cases such as that involving the unique incident of the San Bernardino case. The surveillance state would not have been possible in the absence of the tech companies cooperating with government. This is not an issue of whether is the US is moving closer to a police state. By its own criteria as defined in the Constitution the US has been practicing police state methods that go back to the early Cold War when Communism was used as the justification. Today, it is terrorism, which ironically the US helps to strengthen by its own policies in Islamic countries, including Syria where ISIL has been operating with the considerable support of US allies in the last five years. After all, there was no ISIS before the US and its EU and regional Middle East allies decided to overthrow Assad in Syria. Even when the Russians were bombing ISIS targets, the US and its allies were critical, giving the impression to ISIS that the priority was removing Assad not ISIS.  

  • The APPLE issue reveals very clearly that the more technology dependent a society becomes, the more it slips down the road of a police state at home because it is pursuing militarism abroad. This does not mean that technology in and of itself is a bad thing – no Luddite thesis here – but that the use of technology by corporations and the state makes it easier to have a police state. Civil liberties are eroding very rapidly in the US and one reason the country ranks at about the same level as Turkey when it comes to social justice is because its practices are about as democratic. The “security hoax” which the government has been pursuing at home and abroad has actually helped to strengthen not just the military industrial complex but tech companies that receive multi-billion contracts from government agencies. The state-corporate nexus has been responsible for the evolution toward a police state that has become more necessary than ever as society is becoming increasingly polarized socioeconomically. Security is the last resort of the state to defend welfare capitalism that accounts for the downward social mobility in America and the increasing alienation of citizens who believe their government serves the top ten percent of the wealthiest people –

  • 63% of Americans say money and wealth distribution is unfair

  • These attitudes are substantially unchanged over past 30 years

  • Slight majority of 52% favor heavy taxes on rich as fix

(For more on how technology promotes police state methods see:;;

* Jon Kofas is a retired university Professor from Indiana University.


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