These days, especially here in America, it seems that our society, our politics, and overall culture are growing ever more polarized and conflicted. It’s quite telling when the two main political parties each have popular Presidential candidates who espouse diametrically opposed views on everything from immigration reform to national drug policy and everything in between. Even within the party lines, there are great variations between opinions and policies unlike anything we’ve seen in the recent past. And the most well-funded contenders for the Presidency seem to change opinions on certain things depending on who they’re talking to, or perhaps depending more or less on who’s paying them.
The same money that flows to the politicians vying for positions of power within the American oligarchic establishment also has much control over the various media with which we consume information. Cable television, internet news sites, magazines, newspapers, and most other printed publications all give a relatively consistent message that is very much like the Orwellian newspeak described in the classic dystopian novel, 1984. Of course, any new source has its own liberal, conservative, libertarian, or whatever kind of bent to it, but overall, the information is presented much the same. And no matter the source, you can always be sure that something will be sensationalized or blown out of proportion, and will certainly be filtered through the ever present thought control language of newspeak.
Perhaps this isn’t entirely true. We do still have a few public media sources and independent news outlets that truly care about offering fair and balanced journalism. Unfortunately, those are fewer and farther between, and citizens have to actively seek out those sources. But what about the growth of surveillance and the increasingly savage police state that has been quietly creeping into society?
Over the last couple of years, the #BlackLivesMatter group has helped bring attention to the problem of police brutality toward people of color, and have joined with other groups recently for a meeting with President Obama. Civil rights is still very much an issue in modern America, even as far as we’ve come since the movements of the 1960’s. And this is not an issue that only black folks face. As we’ve seen with some of the Presidential campaign rhetoric, immigrants and refugees are also often maligned by some in our country.
Islamophobia is still running rampant in American society, even fifteen years after the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers inspired blind patriotism and rage against Muslims all around our country. After this event, we immediately began talking about how to monitor the activities of anyone and everyone, and every American citizen became suspect under the Patriot Act, then more recently with the USA Freedom Act. There has never been another time in American history where Orwell’s Inner Party slogans have been closer to the truth for our society. Truly, we have been living in times where “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.”
Now we have this order from the FBI to the Apple corporation, requesting that they create a backdoor to allow the government to acquire encrypted data on an iPhone that was used by one of the people responsible for killing 14 others in San Bernardino, California last December. However, Apple has refused to do so, and in doing so has raised some important questions about government overreach, user privacy, and corporate responsibility. The implications of the kind of decryption that the FBI is asking the company to do could be devastating for both Apple and the millions who use their devices, and even for the cause of democracy itself. In a statement issued by Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, the situation is described in no uncertain terms:
“Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority…
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”
These certainly are quite Orwellian times that we’re living in here in the United States of America. Depending on how this interaction between the Apple corporation and the FBI plays out, this could mean the complete takeover of Big Brother. If a tech giant like Apple is compelled, coerced, or otherwise ordered to breach the security of just one device for any purpose, then the privacy of every Apple user will be at stake. If we care about democracy, technology, and privacy, and don’t want to live in the world described in George Orwell’s 1984, should all stand in solidarity and tell our government, “Don’t break our phones!”