Government versus Apple

Mariner had brunch with Guru this morning. Talking with Guru in the morning is a mistake but his views are intriguing. Consequently, the mariner spent the rest of the day contemplating Guru’s views on the issue of governmental jurisdiction versus corporate independence.

“You know,” Guru started, “The conflict between Cliven and Ammon Bundy in Nevada and Oregon versus the Federal Government is the same conflict as  Apple versus the FBI.” (see: January 4, 2016)

The example of the FBI versus Apple occurred because Apple refused to respond to a warrant. NBC News described the situation as follows:

In a 40-page filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles argued that it needed Apple to help it find the password and access “relevant, critical … data” on the locked cellphone of Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California on December 2.

“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search,” said prosecutors, “the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”

Conflicting views on the situation revolve around two perspectives:

  • Any government has the authority to impose on a corporation’s policy and operation if the corporation operates within the government’s jurisdiction and the issue can be discerned as a threat to the wellbeing of the citizenry.

There is precedent for government imposition on corporations in many areas: EPA regulations, tariffs, equal opportunity legislation, land management, OSHA requirements, building codes, and many more. On the other hand, Apple claims that cryptic operating system defenses protect the privacy of customers [and customer data Apple doesn’t want to share]. Further, Apple claims that release of a solution to the cryptic software would be leaked to the general public regardless of best intentions to protect it; the consequence to Apple would be that their operating system and customer databases would be open to the public – especially to competitors. This perspective, at its core, is sensitive both to ‘big brother’ offenses by government and invasion of corporate secrets. Guru took the issue to a broader level:

  • Businesses and corporations are special entities that comprise the private sector; private sector entities are not accountable to the government unless they perform a criminal act. Further, private sector entities are accountable to the public to abide by the rights, freedom, security and privacy of that public.

The broader issue, then, is whether corporations should be accountable to a nation’s authority as set forth in that nation’s constitution, law, regulation, and, indirectly, the wellbeing of that nation’s citizens. In the post of January 4, 2016, mariner addressed the broader issue from the standpoint of State versus Federal management of land within the State and whether any government could seize a private sector business if that business is in violation of environmental regulations.

An update to the Cliven Bundy grazing violation is that Bundy has been indicted for violation of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, weapon use and possession, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction, extortion to interfere with commerce, and interstate travel in aid of extortion. Found guilty on even a few of these charges, Bundy will end his life in prison. Cliven is no Apple. But the principle is the same. Apparently, the US can arrest Apple managers or otherwise halt Apple operations if the corporation’s resistance can be determined to be a felonious act. Does Apple have gun toting henchmen?

Stay tuned….

Ancient Mariner

4 thoughts on “Government versus Apple

  1. Thanks, as usual, for a clear, succinct posting on a knotty problem. My two-cent’s worth is that the well-being of the country and its citizens trumps (pardon the use of this word) the desires of a company. I believe the actions of Edward Snowden were despicable and treasonous, and that Apple’s actions are only a little less so.

    • Does Guru have an opinion on this matter? I think Guru would be anti-Apple! It seems antiquated to think that we can live in a complex society without a strong government But–what are the limits of a strong government and who will hold it accountable? Is it up to we the people? The very divided people?

  2. Robert and Marty have excellent replies. Guru is hard to pin down when it comes to absolute answers; likely, Guru would speculate on future environments which only exacerbate a finite resolution to the issue. Currently, mariner is sympathetic to Robert’s opinion that Government has final jurisdiction in these matters if only on the premise that the Government represents the best interests of the citizenry.
    There are citizens who are paranoid about the role of Government – consider Donald’s supporters. Mariner has no recourse but to drag out a thread-worn observation:
    John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In other words, the best solution is a Venn diagram with the Government in one circle, private enterprise in the other circle, and the absolute interest of the citizenry in the overlap. This puts a sizable burden on voters.
    Today, international corporations are comparable to 18th century pirates who roamed international waters where government jurisdiction was weak – thereby allowing corporations to pillage and rob without consequence. Perhaps the balance of power must be restored by granting nations more control – at least for now. Living under authoritarianism is no fun either.

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