Apple, The Feds, and The Good Fight.

On Monday 21st of March, Apple gave a keynote presentation on some of their news products. We heard about the advancements and breakthroughs already bearing fruit in the HealthKit API’s (leading to a fascinating discovery that there are likely to be several strands of type-2 diabetes for example), plus announcements on a new iPhone, iPad Pro, and much more besides.

But many wondered if the CEO Tim Cook would address the elephant in the room. The companies’ on-going battle with the FBI over the phone previously owned by the San Bernardino terrorist.

Rather than shy away from the debate, Tim Cook dealt with it head-on and admirably. Since this talk, it appears the Federal government has backed down, but it doesn’t stop this from being an important issue. To his credit, Cook didn’t wallow in the message, but made his points and moved on. You can find out more in the keynote below:

For a more detailed look at his musings, check out the unedited transcript of his talk with Nancy Gibbs and Lev Grossman for Time Magazine, here.

In the interview, Cook makes many salient points. The excerpt below summarises the situation nicely:

But at the end of the day, we’re going to fight the good fight not only for our customers but for the country. We’re in this bizarre position where we’re defending the civil liberties of the country against the government. Who would have ever thought this would happen?

Cook might be bemused at the fact it’s up to a company like Apple to fight this “good fight”, but it’s quite typical for private business and individuals to be the ones that curb the excessive over-reach of government. In fact, that’s usually the default situation.

I understand perfectly the concern over our safety. But it is never good enough to give up essential liberties in order to give us some possible, abstract and temporary security. Now, it appears the FBI are backing down, and don’t think they need Apple to do anything to help. That’s great. But this is a fight that will need to continue.

It’s interesting – and anecdotal, with exceptions on both sides – that generally those who are technology literate (including Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al), support Apple’s stance, and those who are arguing in favour of the Federal government are typically not as technology literate.

I don’t know if this helps clarify things in a simpler away, but let me use an analogy to explain the situation that doesn’t bring technology into the debate at all: Imagine that there was a very slim chance that a now deceased terrorist might – and only might – have left some information about future plans behind a locked door. The FBI go to the lock-maker and demand that they build a universal key that not only unlocks that one door, but could unlock every door in the country. And then the key will be duplicated thousands of times and given to thousands of federal employees.

As yourself, in that scenario, are we really any safer if the lock-maker complies? Or will his compliance make us all less safe?

Answer that question honestly, and whichever conclusion you reach, I think you’ll figure out what side of the debate you’re on.

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Glenn Greenwald: The 21st Century Bob Woodward?

It’s been an interesting few years for Glenn Greenwald.

He’s a lawyer, but has a take on journalism that’s interesting, subversive and deeply important.

As the face of the Edward Snowden Saga (with a documentary centred around him too), it could be argued that Greenwald is a modern version of journalist Bob Woodward – made famous for his coverage of the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein that lives on through the movie All The President’s Men.

In the above video, he talks to Reason TV, and talks more about his new online magazine “The Intercept”.

Ferguson And The Warrior Cop

Rise of the Warrior Cop CoverThe awful scenes this month in Ferguson are a chilling reminder of warnings in Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” (also available on amazon.co.uk)

Yeah, I know I’m a stuck record, but once again, libertarians called this long before anyone else. The inherent dangers of the post-9/11 security-state measures under Bush and Obama (no real distinctions between them), have been laid out more clearly by libertarians than any other group. And classical liberal Balko places it at our feet in the most straightforward way you can imagine.

The Federal orders, made in the last 7-8 years that allowed surplus military arms to be handed out to police officers throughout the US was brought about by the shock of 9/11. But sadly there were no specific rules to how those arms could be used. And how many al-Qaeda sleeper cells do we think are hiding out in Missouri, anyway?

So these powers – that made the scenes in Ferguson look like a level on Call of Duty – led to the problems we’ve see this month. Let’s think about it in plain step-by-step points:

  • A teen – who was unarmed – gets shot by Ferguson police.
  • A peaceful protest rally – designed to ensure no coverup takes place – is held by the people of Ferguson.
  • The Mayor of Ferguson bans the rally, seemingly in violation with the first amendment.
  • The public continue to protest anyway, still mostly peacefully.
  • The (heavily militarised) police start to “crackdown” on the protesters, and even the journalists covering the protest.
  • After this show of force, factions of the protest turns into ugly riots, probably instigated in the most part by criminals with intent anyway on looting, etc., and see the protests degradation as an excuse.
  • News helicopters are banned from flying over the trouble-spots (again, possibly a violation of the first amendment).
  • Journalists get arrested for filming, other journalists are subjected to tear gas by the police. Again, this is the police, not the military (though the distinction isn’t that big by now).
  • A fairly sleepy town on just over 20,000 turns into a militarised zone. By the police.

Put it like that, and something seems very wrong doesn’t it?

Why We Should Celebrate Magna Carta Day

It's 'Magna Carta Day' on June 15th, and for my money, it's much better celebration of what it means to be English, than the tired old esoteric St George's day, which has just become an excuse to endulge in vague piffle to do with “what does it mean to be English”, without giving any real answer. Except for something about a dragon. That didn't exist.

If we really want to celebrate England's contribution to the world, it should be about the best gift our nation gave the rest of the world – namely, the rule of law.

Throughout the Commonwealth – and, indeed, the Anglosphere more generally – The “Great Charter of Freedom” is venerated and highly respected. Sadly, here in the country of its origin, we seem to have forgotten about it entirely.

So, on June 15th, take a moment to remember England's great contribution to the world, that radical, revolutionary truth: we, as human beings, are born free. And any tyrant who claims otherwise, is sorely mistaken.

 

Boston Tragedy: Reality Check.

I know it’s the height of pretension to quote yourself, but reporting the news on-air today about the awful events in Boston made me think of this:

Let’s hope this awful event committed by a tiny number of sickening individuals isn’t used to remove yet more of our freedoms. Because if that’s what happens, then the people who instigate these atrocities are the only ones who win.

Personally, if you’re feeling down and unsure of what to do today, as well as donating to a charity or support group, I think the patriotic thing to do is go here and buy a metallic Bill of Rights.

The best thing we can do is carry on as normal. And if you’re American, keep upholding your fourth amendment rights.

Peace and love.

A Guns Schools and Violence Reality Check

The recent mass-shootings in the US are nothing short of tragic. But we have to remember that they’re an anomaly. These things don’t happen that often and you’re probably more likely to win the lottery than be killed in a mass-shooting. This doesn’t distract from the real pain and suffering that the people involved are going through. But you can’t legislate against statistical anomalies.

There’s calls to not only regulate guns, but also some really unpleasant stuff being said about people with Asberger’s Syndrome. Seriously? Do we really think this 100% non-violent mental illness is responsible for the killings in the Sandy Hook Elementary School? The perpetrator of that crime did have Asberger’s – but that wasn’t why he committed that crime. He did it because he was a violently disturbed individual.

And the calls to ban ‘violent’ video games have come around again. Apparently he played “Call of Duty” a lot. No kidding. No offense grandpa, but so does everyone else under 40. He also probably brushed his teeth with Colgate. Shall we ban that too? Video games are the current thing that parents and authority figures fear, though they’re something that young people enjoy, and the generation before just don’t understand.

Stated differently, video games are the new rock ‘n roll. Remember Charles Manson saying that the Beatles inspired him to commit his horrific crimes? Remember the calls of how “rock & roll has got to go”? If you were born between 1945-1975, you’ll probably remember how crazy it sounded when your parents and government-types screamed that nonsense. Well baby-boomers, I’m sorry to say you’re doing the same thing to us here in Generation Wired. Video games are the new rock & roll and you might just never get it, the way your parents didn’t get The Rolling Stones or Elvis. Or the way their parents didn’t get Miles Davis and Chet Baker.

That’s just my feelings on this. Remember that saying “If someone says ‘there ought to be a law’, there probably oughtn’t”? I think that summarises the hysteria against guns at the moment. (And the hysteria for them, if you’re conspiracy theorist Alex Jones I guess).

So in the interest of a little objective sanity, here’s an important video from one of my favourite commentators and journalists out there, reason.com‘s Nick Gillespie:

Just to recap Nick’s points: Violent crime (including violent crime involving guns) has fallen significantly in the last 20 years. Murder, rape, assaults are half of what they were in the early 1990s. And according to the US Department of Justice’s own figures, violent crime involving the use of weapons has fallen at the same rate.

There’s no correlation that suggests mass shootings have increased in recent years. Simply, they haven’t. The data is clear. And mass-killings more generally actually peaked in the US in 1929 (the year of a particularly awful tragedy at the hands of a pyromaniac, if I’m not mistaken).

According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, schools are significantly safer now than they were 20 years ago: the violent crime victimisation rate fell from 53 per 1,000 students to 14. An incredible fall of 74% from the early 90s.

At the time of writing, there’s now only two states that don’t have ‘right to carry’ laws in the US (i.e. laws that mean you can carry a concealed handgun). The unprecedented liberalisation (in the proper sense of the word) means that there’s over 300 million guns in the US and at least one in 45% of all households. All this despite the massive fall in gun-related violent crime. In fact, the proliferation of guns in America that are held by law-abiding citizens are probably a reason why the crimes are falling. A legally held gun is significantly more likely to be used to prevent a crime than instigate one.

And as Nick points out, this call for bans on “assault weapons” (there’s a correlation between how passionately someone wants to ban them and their inability to define what one actually is), would lead to no change in the level of gun crime. And that’s at best. A report by the US governments National Criminal Justice Reference Service concludes in a comprehensive study (where you get the feeling they really wanted to prove assault weapons should be outlawed): “Should [the so-called assault weapon ban] be renewed, the ban’s effects would on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

We don’t need new laws. We just need to morn the loss of these precious people that we have lost. You want to solve the problems of the world? We libertarians cracked that a long time ago: More freedom. More love.

Speech is Either Free or Not. No Half-Measures.

This short speech by the brilliantly talented comedian Rowan Atkinson is well worth 10 minutes of everyone's time:

 

 

Section 5 is a monstrous law that repeals a significant swathe of our basic rights on the UK. People are getting criminal records for saying hateful and nasty things on social network sites. I'm sorry, but let them. Fight hateful speech with more speech. If you 'clamp down' on people's rights to say nasty things, you have committed an infinitely worse crime than they ever could.