In the middle of the ‘Russiagate’ debacle, the Trump administration reportedly forced Apple to provide data from the accounts of Democrat politicians.
According to the New York Times, in 2017 ‘prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.’ To what extent privacy-obsessed Apple was legally obliged to supply this data is unclear, but the report claims the company was also subjected to a gag order until this year.
The government felt justified in taking this extraordinary step because it apparently reckoned the House Intelligence Committee was one of the sources of the since debunked ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory, which blighted the first half of the Trump Presidency. Apparently they also secured subpoenas for journalist records in a bid to identify their confidential sources.
This is all utterly appalling, of course. How can a free country function when the two key sources of opposition to the government are subject to such intrusion and persecution? Apple was presumably given no choice in the matter, but it’s easy to see why it has decided to put even greater privacy protections in place since then.
While not offering any mitigation for the these government acts, they are a clear consequence of the poisonous political atmosphere that surrounded the Trump presidency. His opponents were prepared to fabricate claims against him and his relationship with much of the permanent state was dysfunctional, at best.
Perhaps the Biden Presidency will mark a de-escalation of America’s digital civil war, but the signs aren’t great. There seems now to be overwhelming political will to use smartphones, telecoms networks and technology in general to spy on citizens, no matter who they are. Our best hope of stemming that tide would appear to be the tech companies themselves, so we should welcome any steps they take to protect us, and themselves, from state oppression.