We live in the golden age of surveillance.
Kudos to Time Magazine‘s Nancy Gibbs and Lev Grossman for the interview they scored with Apple CEO Tim Cook on March 10 and for the cover story, written by Grossman, that went live today.
But the story itself is a must-read.
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Grossman, Time‘s book critic and a best-selling fantasy novelist (The Magicians etc.), is also a first-rate tech writer. He touches, clearly and gracefully, all the bases—the legal issues, the underlying technology, the history of the Clipper Chip, and the Crypto Wars of the 1990s.
But what Grossman does best, I think, is put whatever evidence might be stored in one terrorist’s iPhone in the context of what Peter Swire and Kenesa Ahmad have dubbed “The Golden Age of Surveillance.”
“Idly and thoughtlessly, purely because we like the little conveniences and personal services that smart devices give us, we have comprehensively bugged ourselves but good,” he writes. “Devices like Amazon’s Alexa or Samsung’s smart TVs or even Mattel’s Hello Barbie not only monitor the conversation around them but stream it to the cloud to be run through speech-recognition algorithms. They listen and report.
“George Orwell knew mass surveillance would invade our homes. The twist he didn’t see coming was that it wasn’t Big Brother who would do it. We did it to ourselves.”
Grossman suggests that with all those huge invisible billowing clouds of data we leave behind everywhere we go, the encrypted data on phones just isn’t that big a deal anymore.
“Law enforcement shouldn’t be whining about iPhones; it should be rolling around in all the other free information that criminals and terrorists are spewing through social networks and Nest thermostats, surveillance cameras and Hello Barbies…
“Going dark—this is a crock,” Cook says. “No one’s going dark.”
The cover story is well-timed. Apple and the DOJ are scheduled to meet in court next Tuesday, March 22.