Apple is engaged in a fierce and industry-defining legal battle with the government of the United Kingdom. Over the next eight weeks, solicitation of input will define where technology companies stand vis-a-vis the government. According to multiple reports, the company has already threatened to pull iMessage and FaceTime from the UK.
I wrote a long time ago about how the struggle for governmental control cannot be left in the hands of technology companies. Not because they could not do a better job of governing if asked but simply because we elected for a democracy in which personal freedoms must be balanced with the trust in collective freedom.
Not just the Online Safety Bill, challenging end-to-end encryption in FaceTime and iMessage is at stake. The much broader ability for technology to remain the unprotected backdoor to nation-state sovereignty will be next. I warned technology companies years ago about a battle they cannot win. Nobody can be above the law, or the law loses its relevance.
As I have written before, I disagree with the general stance of Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook. Not because I am against the protection of personal freedoms, but to keep a country safe, we must balance the interests in personal freedom with the trust in collective freedom. Without paradoxical rules to freedom, pursuing freedom becomes a maelstrom of diverging personal freedoms, a wild west, destroying the trust in collective freedom.
Apple can easily create a server-side backdoor only available to the government. Apple’s security concerns are overblown and disproportionate to the gaping security holes in every technology they put out. Like all major technology companies, Apple has overstepped many governmental boundaries and cannot be trusted. Many would say the government cannot be trusted either, but the faith in democracy states we can at least hold them, not Apple, to account.
Today, our government agencies here in the U.S. can intrude on phone conversations, intercept email exchanges, and the like with a court order signed by a judge. However, the UK wants the right to scan images to detect child abuse periodically. I am against that without a court order. We should not facilitate a permanent surveillance state in which the good are continually confronted with the downside of the opportunistic bad apples in society.
In the words of Albert Einstein, the theory of humanity should determine what can be discovered and unleash a meritocracy in which the abusers are severely punished for eroding humanitarian trust. Governments worldwide still need to establish a humanitarian theory determining what can be discovered, let alone a technological theory subscribing to that humanitarian objective. As a result of that omission, we breed a cesspool of criminal activities, some big, some small, that go unpunished. We must develop a theory in which it becomes abundantly clear specific behaviors will not be tolerated.
Without such a theory, many people take its absence for a glorious ride and are seldom sufficiently punished. We cannot let child abusers roam the earth, as the mere act and recidivism rates are unacceptable.
Apple’s stance is unacceptable as it violates the sovereignty of the countries where it operates. The prerogative of said country’s government is to establish and maintain the balance between freedom and the paradoxical rules required to gain trust in freedom for all.
While we here in the U.S. may disagree with how some countries rule their roost, that is no reason for our technology companies to disrespect the sovereignty those countries have established. Technology companies cannot deploy monisms of absolutism that disregard the plurality of sovereignties that encircles the world.
As any historian would know, precisely the attempt at monism for the world is what destroys the empire that embodies it. The erosion of the technology empire comes from its attempted monism of control.
Technology companies, amidst a fanfare of populism, have been given carte blanche to sell their extraordinary claims of human advancement. Without extraordinary evidence to support those claims, they have become the religions of the future. Are we better off with technology deflating the value of our differences derived from meritorious disagreement and instead praising the value of our commonalities fostered through groupthink? Evolution disagrees.
As a Silicon Valley technologist, I fully understand the power and potential of technology. That power is abused by denying evolutionary first-principles. Technology has yet to prove it is a source of good for the world. For I ask you, what technology today makes humanity more adaptable to nature’s entropy? Crickets.
Apple understands very well the need to curb freedom of speech. Apple –itself– deploys paradoxical rules to how Apple Store employees can express grievances about managing its stores. A recent article reveals how Apple’s internal communications tool, Loop, is actively scrubbed from information it does not want to surface. That tactic sounds quite similar to the censoring the UK government intends to deploy.
Despite our many disagreements with how poorly humans are governed, the right to govern remains with the government first and foremost. How we govern must be upgraded from a rule setter to a theorist determining what humanity can discover. We must challenge how we are governed, not letting technology mice dance on the table while the cat of government is away.
In soccer parlance, we must upgrade the role of government from a referee to a member of FIFA, defining the gameplay before a game is played. Today’s governance crumbles under the weight of the compounding post-mortem corrections of laissez-faire governance, challenged by technology virtuosos who play a humanitarian game that serves them best.
Apple’s hypocrisy on freedom of speech is clear from how it controls the free speech of its employees while expecting the opposite from the government. Of course, Apple’s genuine concern is the people en masse avoiding rules and fleeing a constricted communications platform. All technology companies must abide by the same laws of the state.
Technology companies must respect the sovereignty of the nation-state in which it operates or face expulsion. Fifty-six countries in the world already limit the use of technology for disrespecting said sovereignty. Technology companies must not only make their tools multi-lingual but also multi-sovereign, abolishing its monisms of absolutism for the relativity of human plurality that follows rather than dictates the sovereignty to each state its own.
The power of technology companies can no longer be left unchallenged, especially with the advent of AI. The Eurozone is tightening its belt with new regulations, U.S. Congress and other nations will soon follow. To avoid those regulations from becoming nonsensical, mediocre, and counter-productive, it would behoove Apple to seek our policy advice to regain the respect of governments worldwide.