Apple’s Stand Against Section 215 of the PATRIOT ACT


Apple Transparency Report Anticipates Fight Against Government Inquiries

The USA PATRIOT Act is an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." It was passed with alacrity in 2001, when there was still smoke in the air over lower Manhattan, Anthrax at the post office and raw nerves nationwide. The language, as has often been pointed out, is Orwellian in its omnivorous take on omniscience--and advances in communications technology and traffic since its inception have created an opportunity for a surveillance state that Stalin could only have dreamed of. Law enforcement has always been able to breach the walls of privacy, but before the Patriot Act and especially the gargantuan reach granted it in Section 215, enforcement was generally required to prove a few things first--like probable cause. Section 215 of the Patriot Act cavalierly dispenses with such formalities: it's a sort of digital "stop and frisk" policy, grabbing at everything, hoping for something. Under Section 215, the government doesn't need to show "probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity." So that means innocent you and innocent me and our metadata are included in its sweep. "Appropriate tools" is a loose description hinging on the adjective, which is subjective by definition.

So Apple, one of the giant gatekeepers of private sector information, has decided to draw the line, announcing as part of its recent transparency report that it will fight against information requests made under the auspices of Section 215. When the FBI first started utilizing Section 215 in 2002 by visiting libraries (where information used to live, before the digital explosion), librarians were resistant and appalled. (Under the Act, people and organizations who receive these requests are under a gag order not to reveal that they've been asked. So the would-be whistle blower is breathless.) But libraries didn't have the financial resources or public support necessary to effectively counter the government in a battle over privacy. Apple does.

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