Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Apple Case is About Economic Freedom, not Privacy

I’m not an expert on law.

That said, I don’t believe that the recent battle over the judge’s ruling that Apple must create a program for the FBI to access iPhone data is primarily a right-to-privacy issue.

Apple’s position is that if Apple creates the program the FBI wants, the very existence of the technology would create a “backdoor” into all of the billions of iPhones owned by Apple’s customers. But the government always had the power to get at private data. It could get a warrant from a judge that enables it to invade any private home, business, club, computer, or whatever and do a search, even if it means breaking down doors and walls. The government certainly must have the power to subpoena existing records, data, and information from private citizens in the context of the investigation of a crime, subject to judicial oversight.

But in Apple’s case, the company is being ordered to create a product that doesn’t exist, in order to give access to something it does not own (the iPhone in question is owned by the San Bernardino Health Department). This, in direct violation of the company’s own policy of protecting its customers privacy by specifically not bringing into existence an outside means of accessing iPhone data. The issue is not privacy as such, though. The fundamental issue is citizens’ right to freedom of production and trade—which implicitly entails the right not to produce what the producer does not choose to produce. A person (or company) that is forced to produce is a slave. Yet, that is essentially what is being forced on Apple: It is, in effect, being forced into slavery.

This is another illegitimate and dangerous expansion of government power—and a logical next step in the road we embarked upon when we accepted the individual health insurance mandate. If the government can force us in our capacity as consumers to buy a product, as it can in the case of health insurance under RomneyCare/ObamaCare, why can’t it also force us in our capacity as producers to create a product? There is no logical reason why the government can’t. It’s bad enough that the government regulates production and trade. Now it can tell us to consume against our will and, if the FBI wins, to work against our will.

Again, I am not a legal or constitutional expert. There may be aspects that I am missing. But, as I see it, the right to freedom of production and trade, not the right to privacy, is the fundamental issue in the Apple/FBI battle. It’s a dangerous trend we are on.

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