Over the weekend, a report by Der Spiegel revealed the existence of an elite hacking unit within the NSA – the Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO). For years, this unit has been intercepting electronics deliveries, embedding items with spyware, and sending them along to unsuspecting customers.
Among the report's many revelations was the fact that, since 2008, TAO has intercepted and embedded spyware on customers' iOS devices with a stunning 100 percent success rate. This bold claim prompted some to theorize that Apple has been working hand-in-hand with the NSA. For how else could the NSA hack all of its mobile products without fail?
This prompted Apple to put out a statement (below) which not only denied such cooperation, but revealed the company's public anger toward the U.S. government, with two words near the end starkly marking that anger:
Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.Whether or not this statement bears out to be true regarding Apple's cooperation with the NSA, or lack thereof, remains to be seen. However, publicly calling out government agents as "malicious hackers" who engage in "security attacks" against American consumers is, to date, an unprecedented show of anger by one of America's largest technology firms.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Apple, or any of America's largest telecom and technology firms, deserve our sympathy here. They deserve none – particularly when one considers the tax breaks such companies receive and the gross income disparities existent between their executive classes and normative workers.
However, it is giant corporations such as Apple and Microsoft, with their high-paid lawyers and deep lobbying pockets, which could compel the Obama administration to rein in the NSA's unconstitutional surveillance activities.
Is this the way democracy is supposed to function? No. But neither can democracy function when the electorate is uninformed as to what their elected officials are doing.
At least technology companies are fighting for transparency and constitutional protections since Edward Snowden's leaks. This is a good thing, regardless of whether or not they are motivated by profit margins and lined pockets.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.