Apple and the NSA: Violating American citizens’ privacy

apple_nsa-smWhen the Guardian and the Washington Post publicized the existence of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM program, a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data-mining scheme, tech companies angrily denied that they had given the NSA direct access to their servers.

PRISM is a system the NSA has used to gain access to the private communications of users of popular Internet services. Edward Snowden, a computer specialist and whistleblower who worked for the NSA, leaked a classified 41-slide PowerPoint presentation to the press. Snowden stated that PRISM enables the “collection directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple, and other online companies since its introduction in 2007.(1)  Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

“We have never heard of PRISM,” said a spokesman for Apple. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”(2)

While companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under U.S. law, the PRISM program actually allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers.

Apple, CEO Tim Cook, President Barak Obama, as well as other companies and leaders have been named in a $20 billion class-action lawsuit over privacy violations related to PRISM. The lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman, who said the government’s “Orwellian power grab” must be stopped.(3)

In the months after the information leak, Apple attempted to switch sides by partnering with other corporations to instead shine the spotlight on the NSA and called for transparency.(4)

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation explained why the denials might not be that potent:

“Saying they’ve never heard of PRISM doesn’t mean much. Generally what we’ve seen when there have been revelations is something like: ‘We can’t comment on matters of national security.’ The tech companies’ responses are unusual in that they’re not saying ‘we can’t comment.’ They’re designed to give the impression that they’re not participating in this.”(5)

Through the years, Apple’s brand image has been to portray its products as a symbol of free-thinking counterculture, and rebellion against injustice. Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl commercial(6), which launched the Mac computer, was a reference to George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, describing a dystopian future ruled by a televised “Big Brother” overlord, where personal privacy doesn’t exist. An interpretation of the commercial was that Apple is a means of saving humanity from conformity, or “Big Brother.” It was expressly political, its message being: give power to the masses.

Fast-forward to Apple’s involvement in the NSA’s scandal and this commercial appears to be ripe with irony. From the information that has come to light about the NSA’s PRISM program and Apple’s involvement in violating privacy and other constitutional rights of American citizens, it is quite clear that the company is nothing like that famous 1984 commercial about rebellion against conformity and “Big Brother.”

As unmistakable facts of Apple’s shady business conduct emerge and its polished veneer wears thin, we no longer worship its brand; instead, we more clearly see its less-than-stellar character.

Also see:

•    Apple: A rotten core under a polished brand image
•    Why are we supporting Apple’s sweatshops?
•    Apple’s disregard for consumer privacy – a consistent policy
•    How does Apple avoid paying taxes? ($44 billion in the US alone)
•    Apple: Enemy of consumer privacy
•    Poverty-level wages for Apple store employees
•    Apple’s ebook price fixing
•    Apple: Using secret police as personal patent enforcers
•    Apple earned the title of “least green” tech company
•    When will the golden Apple fall?


(1)  “Keeping top-secret tabs on your phone calls.”  Kevin Johnson, Scott Martin, Jayne O’Donnell and Michael Winter. USA Today. June 6, 2013.

(2) “Google, Apple and Facebook Outright Deny They’re Helping the NSA Mine Data.”  Liz Gannes. AllThingsD. June 6, 2013.

(3)  “Second Class Action Over Obama/NSA Alleged Privacy Abuse.” Freedom Watch. June 12, 2013.

(4) “Facebook, Apple, Microsoft Partner With Privacy Groups To Call For NSA Transparency.” Gerry Smith. Huffington Post. July 18, 2013.

(5) “PRISM Companies Start Denying Knowledge of the NSA Data Collection.” The Atlantic Wire. June 6, 2013.