Right now, India is furiously debating, on traditional and social media, the rights and wrongs of the JNU case. The debate revolves around one question – is it ok to chant anti India slogans (in whatever shape and form) in a democratic republic ? The informed, expert view is yes, it is – no matter how distasteful it is for the rest of us ; the counter view is ‘arrest the traitors and hang them at dawn’, and if you can’t hang them (because it might be illegal) then at least beat them up till they agree with ‘us’. There is so much outpouring of patriotism, and outrage, that it seems to have polarised everyone – words such as traitors and anti national flowing freely – and it has managed to drown out every other news, including the Make In India week going on in Mumbai.
A few continents away, there is another debate. In the USA, the FBI wants tech giant Apple to create a backdoor in its OS, to enable them to gain access to the iphone of San Bernardino shooter. A simple enough request you would think. Afterall, who will say no to something that has a potential national security/law and order angle?
(image courtesy : here)
Well, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook has said no. Firmly. Politely. And, without any ambiguity. In an open letter published on the company’s website, Cook has this to say,
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.
He goes on to explain the grounds, the need for encryption, the need for privacy – and a corporation, like Apple, not doing anything that compromises the privacy and security of the individual. This in particular stands out,
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.
He suggests that the Government take a legislative route on this, rather than a judicial one – trying to get agreement based on an approximately 250 year old law
The entire letter is here, and is worth a read. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, has waded into the debate supporting Tim Cook and Apple’s stand. The two largest tech companies in the world, weigh in on the side of the consumer. The cynical among us may say it is good business, individual consumers are looking for privacy, especially in more mature markets. But, the bottom line is that it takes courage to stand up to your Government or any authority. And, that is a refreshing sign in a world where the first response to Government demands is abject acquiescence.
In a complex world, with competing agendas, the core question is Are the rights of the individual greater than the demands of National Security? Where do you draw the line ?
My own view is that unless the State protects the right of the individual, no matter who that individual is and how offensive his/her words or actions are, it is down the slippery slope of loss of rights for the rest of us. And defend does not mean give a free pass. It means ensure that constitutional rights are protected – including the right to speech, the right to a free trial, the right to defense, the right to association, and the rest. There cannot be hair splitting on this. It is just too dangerous for all of us, if there is.