Sunday, February 21, 2016

Someone actually wrote this: Government, Apple, and privacy

In an op-ed in today's New York Times, "In the Government vs. Apple, Who Wears the Black Hat?," Robert Levine asks, "Shouldn’t the government have more legal and moral authority to weigh complicated issues of privacy and national security than a company that makes phones?" He does not make the case that it should.

Levine answers the question thus: "It should. After all, nobody ever elected Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, to public office." So what? History, particularly American history, is full of people of people who successfully stood up for their own and other people's rights without having been elected to public office, often by resisting the dictates of those who had been.

He continues:

The government, not Apple, should guarantee our privacy rights. But this dispute has arisen precisely because the government hasn’t done so. Instead, it squandered much of its legal and moral authority when the National Security Agency engaged in widespread surveillance of American citizens for so long. Some N.S.A. abuses targeted Silicon Valley directly.
In other words, he asserts that government "should guarantee our privacy rights" and immediately shows that trusting it to do so is a fool's errand. The problem with trusting government to guarantee our privacy rights is that we have privacy rights against government for a reason.
Important choices about the future of technology and privacy should be made by the American people and their representatives, not by Silicon Valley, where even the noblest intentions are mixed with huge financial stakes.
So, everything within the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state?
[W]e are left with Silicon Valley executives making engineering decisions that could determine what information the government can and can’t have. That’s both bad policy and fundamentally undemocratic.
Instead of making a valid argument, Levine simply uses "undemocratic" as a snarl word. The outcome that he fears is no more undemocratic than the idea of privacy itself — which is undemocratic in a way, but in a good way.
But the current choice is between a government that doesn’t seem to recognize limits to its own power to access personal information and a technology company that does. It’s a bad choice, but an obvious one. While nobody elected Mr. Cook to protect our privacy, we should be glad someone is.
Except for "It's a bad choice," that is exactly it. The problem with comparing an idealized version of government to technology companies in the real world is government in the real world.

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