The game of pointing to hypocrisy must be great fun, as it’s being played everywhere you look. Why is it cool for the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to refuse to consider a Supreme Court nominee? Because Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Vice President Joe Biden played the same game years ago. Gotcha!!!
Except it’s a false argument. Two wrongs don’t make a right. That the other team is full of shit doesn’t make you any less full of shit. You’re all full of shit. Just because you’re not the only one covered in shit doesn’t mean you smell any better. Yet, people seem to adore this argument as it makes them feel as if they aren’t nearly as full of shit as they are. Or perhaps it’s just people full of shit love company. Either way, it’s unavailing.
At Volokh Conspiracy, government apologist Stewart Baker tries to play this game as well. He’s not very good at it, and apparently, isn’t much of a lawyer either, as reflected in his peculiar vision of how real lawyers ask questions. But he tries despite his challenges.
To avoid helping the FBI search the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone, Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook, are going to spend weeks in court, and probably on Capitol Hill. That means that for the first time the government will have a chance to use subpoenas and discovery to judge the truth of the claims that the famously secretive Silicon Valley company and its allies have been making. This should be fun.
That Baker sees anyone arguing in support of privacy as Apple allies is intriguing. A buddy of mine noted the other day that when you’re a goniff, you think everybody is a goniff. So will this be as much fun as Baker claims?
Apple’s story is that helping the FBI would require an “unprecedented and unreasonably burdensome” code-writing exercise and that once the code is written, authoritarian regimes like China’s will demand that Apple use the code to help them spy on their citizens.
Yes, Baker calls Apple’s assertions its “story,” but don’t get bent about his use of childish rhetoric to be dismissive. So what if he employs rookie tricks to try to make his case? Rather, it’s his lame attempt at playing “Gotcha” with Apple to deflect your attention away from the government’s being covered with shit that stinks up the joint.
Dear Tim Cook,
In court, you’ve said that it would take two to four weeks to write the code the FBI wants, using a small team of 6-10 Apple employees. This is too much work, your lawyers told the court, especially since it might end up helping repressive regimes surveil their own people.
What I’d like to know is just how much work you’ve already done for repressive regimes surveilling their own people:
One repressive regime in particular, actually. China’s.
So the message is that Baker has never done a deposition, has never crossed a witness, is incapable of asking a decent question? Well, that’s a shock. After all, it’s not like Baker was first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the United States Department of Homeland Security under the Presidency of George W. Bush. Oh wait. Anyway, it’s not like the position required someone competent in the skills of lawyers. Or logic.
For those who want desperately to rationalize the unpleasant odor of the government’s “story,” this “hint” of hypocrisy will win the “Gotcha” game. For those who are capable of both seeing through this lame effort to suggest that Apple is a nefarious hypocrite, and realize that regardless of what Apple does/did in China, it fails to provide any solace for what the government demands of it here, Baker’s ploy evokes a shrug.
“The court left open the door to surveillance as long as the primary function of the device was intact,” Mr. Soghoian said. “So as long as Amazon Echo can tell you what temperature it is or can still play music, that case seems to suggest that the government might be able to force Amazon to spy on you.”
Mr. Soghoian was referring to Amazon’s handy digital assistant, a device that is constantly listening to your household conversations to try to offer you friendly help. The Echo listens for a keyword — “Alexa!” — which prompts it to start streaming your voice to Amazon’s servers to decipher your request. Amazon, which declined to comment on how the Apple case might affect Echo users’ privacy, has said it is not constantly recording people’s voices, and that it keeps voice recordings only to help the system learn to better understand you.
There are people who bought an Amazon Echo within minutes of its going on the market. And it’s just one of the wealth of devices we willingly bring into our homes that promise internet connections to make our life wonderfully convenient. Like refrigerators and thermostats. And smartphones.
But the Apple case threatens to undermine those promises. If a court can get Apple to hack into an iPhone, why couldn’t it also force Amazon to change the Echo’s security model so the Echo can record everything you say? Mr. Soghoian believes the Apple case could set that precedent.
“What we really need for the Internet of Things to not turn into the Internet of Surveillance is a clear ruling that says that the companies we’re inviting into our homes and bedrooms cannot be conscripted to turn their products into roving bugs for the F.B.I.,” he said.
We’ve planted the bugs that will allow, no, cause, our being under constant surveillance. By Apple. By Amazon. By Google. The ACLU’s “chief technologist,” Chris Soghoian, says that we will be saved from our own folly by a “clear ruling” that these devices can’t be “conscripted to turn their products into roving bugs for the F.B.I.” Which ignores that they’re already roving bugs for tech companies, and that a “clear ruling” will surely prevent the government from doing so as well. Because . . . rules.
As much as Baker is shooting blanks in his lame game of “Gotcha,” the fact that we are as guilty of hypocrisy when crying about the government’s effort to infiltrate our world by the forced abuse of technology as Baker is plain. We complain about the government trying to steal our privacy, while we willingly give it away to anyone with a shiny toy. And we pay for the privilege!
As much as we can appreciate the risks that guys like Baker, Comey, Vance, Bratton and others deny, we cover ourselves in shit when we place Amazon’s listening device in our homes without any government agent putting a gun to our heads or court order compelling access. Gotcha.