Last week, Congressman David Jolly introduced the “No Taxpayer Support for Apple Act.” As stated in the Congressman’s press release, this bill “would forbid federal agencies from buying Apple products until Apple provides law enforcement with the technical support necessary to access encrypted information sought by a warrant that may be materially relevant to the commission of terrorist acts.” But why stop at banning Apple products?
In a recent article for Gizmodo, Chris Mills suggests, tongue in cheek, that there are many other corporate accomplices to this graven affront to fighting terrorism. A significant number of Silicon Valley tech firms, from Facebook to Intel, have voiced support for Apple’s position. Thus, if we take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, government employees should also be barred from using Twitter, Facebook, Cisco hardware, and computers containing Intel processors, among many, many others. If anything, the Congressman’s bill doesn’t go nearly far enough—any and all companies purporting to protect their users’ privacy should be on the chopping block.
Luckily, all signs point to Jolly’s bill going nowhere fast. It currently has no cosponsors and most media outlets are correctly calling shenanigans on this nonsense legislation. But the Congressman does have one stalwart defender of his approach: Donald Trump. The GOP frontrunner recently called for a boycott of Apple products, ironically tweeting that call to action from his iPhone.
Leaving aside the Trumpification of this debate, Congressman Jolly is apparently unaware that Apple has not violated any laws. Apple has filed a formal objection to the FBI’s demands—as it is lawfully entitled to do—and is currently waging a legal and public relations war against what many believe to be a clear overstep of the law enforcement agency’s authority. The ongoing legal dispute between Apple and the FBI hinges on a number of important elements, not least of which involves the 1789 All Writs Act, with arguments in favor of Apple’s position citing the First, Fourth, Fifth, and even Thirteenth Amendments. Much has been written about the ongoing disputation, and the only certainty in this case is that the courts have their work cut out for them.
Yet Jolly would have us believe that Apple’s position essentially amounts to them acting as an accomplice after the fact. He claims that Apple is challenging “an order to cooperate in preventing the deletion of evidence on a single phone of a terrorist murderer.” That entire statement is misleading. There is no attempt to prevent “the deletion of evidence,” and the case is not merely about “a single phone,” given the nature of what the FBI is requesting.
But in a case like this, we shouldn’t be preoccupied by facts. What truly matters is that the Congressman is defending America, or something. And of course, to that effect, he concludes the with the usual patriotic invocation of 9/11, and the need for Apple to show “conviction to further protect our nation.”
I would contend that Apple is doing its part in protecting our nation. By standing up for the privacy and security of ordinary consumers, Tim Cook and his company have done far more to secure Americans’ digital lives than any empty, go-nowhere bill that would do nothing more than deprive government workers of the same security afforded to tens of millions of ordinary Apple users. If anything, Congress should be mandating the use of Apple products.
As Apple’s founder and CEO Steve Jobs once said, “Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Bills like this are a perfect example of that sentiment. Advancing legislation like this only serves to undermine the good that Apple has contributed to the American economy. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of our elected representatives see beyond the political profiteering of this bill.
Op-ed by Ryan Hagemann; originally published in RealClearTechnology