Court of public opinion, irony, no less players in Apple’s tussle with Feds

So, Apple doesn’t want to help the government unlock an iPhone in the name of privacy for all. I find it ironic that one of the most secretive and wealthy companies in the world refuses to become less secretive (and wealthy) by not cooperating with the FBI, but I don’t find it surprising.

Apple can afford to appeal the FBI’s request ad nauseam in the courts as its cash reserves are only exceeded by the expertise of its legal team. Speaking of exceeding, I believe the FBI has probably exceeded its authority with its request, but that won’t stop it from trying.

The cynic in me sees the good public relations generated for Apple as it initially plays out. Tim Cook’s dramatic letter, while eloquent, only serves to stoke the flames of my skepticism, however.

Under his regime, Apple has not been able to capture customer goodwill like his predecessor, the legendary Steve Jobs did. And the letter, while well written, does not specify the lengths or costs to which Apple is prepared to challenge the FBI. All considered, it is also far too premature to call this a defining moment in Cook’s tenure at Apple. Let’s see how this play for privacy and data encryption rights for all Americans plays out first.

Over the years I have lost trust in Apple’s ability to truly listen to its customers. Apple went from thinking different to thinking for itself. I get that Apple is in it to make money first and foremost. No matter what you may hear to the contrary, any of us would be foolish to think that Apple’s leadership, including Tim Cook, have not thought this through. You can be sure the company has considered the long-term ramifications of taking on the government in both the regular courts as well as the court of public opinion.

People on Apple’s side of the fence in this confrontation are getting fired up over the implications this case has for our civil liberties and right to privacy. The irony bleeds through to me on this as well.

Back in the day I used to get fired up when I heard dumbfounded arguments like, “If you don’t have anything to hide, you shouldn’t be worried about whatever Apple, Facebook, the government or anyone is doing with your private information when you use their products and services online.”

Now, I just consent to the possibility of things like having an increased risk for identity theft occurring as a result of all the data mining I’m subjected to. The privacy genie is out of the bottle, it’s not going back in and it’s lost out to a world living predominantly online.

Our right to privacy was compromised the moment we agreed to adopt our digital lifestyle. The days when you could only be “looked up” in the telephone book directory seem a distant memory. It’s convenient in so many ways to be online and take advantage of all the many goods, services and products offered there.

Steve Jobs's signature, on an Apple keyboard

Steve Jobs’s signature, on an Apple keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, I have no preconceived notions of entitlements to privacy when I’m conducting business on the Internet. I’ve accepted that our lives are pretty much an open book. That is the trade off and compromise we make for our conditional use of cyber ether.

And speaking of compromise, the most likely outcome in all of this will be both sides coming to some sort of compromise. At the end of the day Apple will not want to be remembered as the gadget maker that took on the federal government. What it wants and what it needs, however, are two different things. It wants to regain some traction in the eyes of its customer base while still standing up for everyone’s right to ever-eroding privacy and civil liberties.

What Apple ultimately needs is to demonstrate some sort of good faith effort that helps the FBI’s cause while permitting the Cupertino giant a measure of grace for doing so.

The FBI’s reaching with its use of the All Writs Act of 1789 in this affair demonstrates some of the innovation and creativity that Apple has always been known for, Apple’s own legal response notwithstanding. It’ll be interesting how this all plays out, but I envision this ending up being mostly about irony, strangely little over privacy concerns and no one getting all that it is they want.


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