Election 2016

Dear Tim Cook: Republicans Aren’t Your Allies & Neither Are Democrats But Libertarians Are

The real axis in American politics is authoritarianism vs. libertarianism.

|

Dear Tim Cook of Apple,

A few days ago at an exclusive, secretive conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, the Republican-friendly think tank that takes credit for failed U.S. foreign policy of George W. Bush, you got into a heated discussion with the ultra-conservative Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) over whether Apple should write software to help the government unlock the cell phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

You have been adamant and inspiring in your refusal to simply do the government's bidding in this case. Although I've had issues with some of your stances in the past, all I can say in this instance is: Thank you.

You are absolutely right that the federal government should not force Apple or any other company under these particular circumstances and, more broadly, you are correct to resist decades-long attempts by the government to mandate "backdoors" into machines and software that would effectively render strong encryption useless.

Here is what I want to tell you: The Republicans are not your friends (this much you've known for a long time). But neither are the Democrats. The only consistent allies you and every other company have in this fight are small "L" libertarians who are resisting the authoritarianism that has captured both major parties.

Lower-case libertarians exist in both of the major parties, and we exist of course in the official Libertarian Party (I'm not a member, fwiw). But most of us exist out there in the rolling fields of the Republic and are not particularly interested in partisan politics because the whole point of libertarianism is to live in a world beyond tedious and rancorous zero-sum political squabbles in which 50.1 percent of the people get to tell the other 49.9 percent how to live. But according to Gallup, we are now the plurality. About 27 percent of Americans agree that "government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses" and that "the government should not favor any particular set of values." By Gallup's tally, there are more libertarians than conservatives (26 percent), liberals (23 percent), and populists (15 percent).

Connect with libertarians, Tim Cook, and create a stronger and stronger community of people interested in what we at Reason call "Free Minds and Free Markets." We can route around the fading tribal loyalties of partisan politics (Gallup finds that party identification for Republicans and Democrats is at or near historic lows), and we can create a country that is equally comfortable with gay marriage (which the Republicans hate) and sharing-economy innovations such as Uber and Airbnb (which both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have denounced).

Back to that AEI-sponsored confab. As the Huffington Post reported:

At one point, Cotton and Apple's Cook fiercely debated cell phone encryption, a source familiar with the exchange told HuffPost. "Cotton was pretty harsh on Cook," the source said, and "everyone was a little uncomfortable about how hostile Cotton was." (Apple is in the midst of a battle with the Justice Department and the FBI over an encrypted iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters.) 

Despite rhetorical lip service to individualism and getting the government out of people's lives, the vast majority of Republicans are terrible on issues of privacy. At a recent Republican presidential-candidate debate, all of candidates said without hesitation or reservation that Apple should be forced to write software to help unlock Rizwan Farook's cell phone. In a similar setting, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were noncommital, though Sanders was better than Clinton. He said, "Count me in as someone who is a very strong civil libertarian who believes we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights." But he is not going to be the Democratic nominee.

Clinton is going to be the nominee and quite likely the next president of the United States (according to betting markets). Despite her saying "We don't want privacy and encryption destroyed, and we want to catch and make sure there's nobody else out there whose information is on the cell phone of that killer," she has a virtually unblemished record of calling for virtually unrestricted government power when it comes to whatever gets deemed a national security matter. Back in the 1990s, her husband's administration pushed like hell to mandate "Clipper Chips," "key escrow," and other forms of back doors in tech. Bill Clinton also pushed to consider enryption technology as a form of munitions subject to export licenses. Hillary Clinton was on board back then with all that and other banal forms of tech mandates such as the "V-chip," a useless technology ostensibly designed to allow parents to filter out violent cartoons. And as a senator from New York, she inveighed against popular video games, insanely arguing in the midst of plummeting rates of violent crime and sexual assault that "Grand Theft Auto…encourages them [children] to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them.

These days, she is just being coy about encryption. Last fall, as Techdirt put it, "Hillary Clinton Joins The 'Make Silicon Valley Break Encryption' Bandwagon." And as my colleague Matt Welch has exhaustively documented in a must-read cover story for Reason, Hillary Clinton has been an uniquely outspoken foe of free speech—what's the old tech saying, "code is speech"?—for all of her political career, even going so far as, just like Donald Trump, asserting the government should force social-media companies to do the feds' bidding:

"We're going to have to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space," Clinton warned, citing the deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino four days earlier by a U.S.-born Muslim and his Pakistani wife. "Just as we have to destroy their would-be caliphate, we have to deny them online space."

But doesn't that go against the American cultural and constitutional tradition of free speech? Clinton anticipated the argument: "You're going to hear all of the usual complaints—you know, 'freedom of speech,' etc.," she said. "But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we've got to shut off their means of communicating."

This was no heat-of-the-moment hyperbole. Earlier that same day, the former secretary of state was even more explicit about what she would demand from American technology companies: "We're going to need help from Facebook and from YouTube and from Twitter," she declared on ABC's This Week, announcing a strategy of fighting terrorists "in the air," "on the ground," and "on the Internet." "They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks or the celebration of violence. They're going to have to help us take down these announcements and these appeals."

Just as the Republicans running for president are joined by the Tom Cottons of their party, so too is Hillary Clinton backed up by the Dianne Feinsteins of hers.

The proper way to understand the reality of politics, then, is not Democratic vs. Republican. A better frame is offered by Edward Snowden, who recently told Reason:

"I do see sort of a clear distinction between people who have a larger faith in liberties and rights than they do in states and institutions," he grants. "And this would be sort of the authoritarian/libertarian axis in the traditional sense. And I do think it's clear that if you believe in the progressive liberal tradition, which is that people should have greater capability to act freely, to make their own choices, to enjoy a better and freer life over the progression of sort of human life, you're going to be pushing away from that authoritarian axis at all times."

Clinton and what we might call "the security Democrats," which is to say most of them, are on the same side of this divide as the Republicans. And you might think about this way, too: Sanders and Clinton are not simply against Uber, Airbnb, and other innovative new companies, they go on and on about corporations such as Apple that shield profits from U.S. corporate taxes. Instead of pushing to change tax policy so that corporations and individuals have less reason to shield income or profits, Sanders and even Clinton are happy to demagogue the issue and blame unholy capitalists for failing to "pay their fair share." The polite term for this sort of argument is bullshit (and don't even get me started on Clinton's continued uncritical support for the drug war and war war).

As I said, each party has its civil libertarians on the encryption issue at least. The Republicans have people such as Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie, and the Democrats has Jared Polis, Zoe Lofgren, and Ron Wyden. But you should realize that none of these characters, at least at the current moment, comprise anything approaching a majority or even a plurality of their respective parties. For that, you need to reach outside of traditional politics and speak to libertarians, civil and economic, wherever you find them.

We are a plurality and we are the people who are especially working to create a new operating system for politics and culture in the 21st century. Not one built on worn-out, old tribalisms of Republican and Democrat, or conservative and liberal. But one that sees the authoritarian/libertarian axis as central to understanding the current reactionary moment in politics.

Here we are, in a world of wonders where new sorts of technological innovation and cultural production are making our lives more interesting than ever and where global trade is lifting millions of people out of poverty. And our presidential candidates are mired in demands that Uber just cut it out and Apple unlock its phones.

Appeal not to elites embedded in organizations that have been around since before the Civil War and are played out. Tell the Tom Cottons and the Dianne Feinsteins of the world to screw off and appeal directly to those of us who understand we want a world freed from politics as much as possible, not one in which politicians get to dictate what businesses and individuals do.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

57 responses to “Dear Tim Cook: Republicans Aren’t Your Allies & Neither Are Democrats But Libertarians Are

  1. I love Nick and the Jacket to death but I wished he would stop deluding himself on the idea that the Democrats have some civil liberties friendly people. While there may be some, they are dying breed and have no real say or power within the party. If they did, then they would chased Obama out of the White House in 2012 and condemned the shit out of him. I had a friend who bitched and moaned about the Bush years but when Rand Paul did his filibustering the guy was pissed that he would dare block his hero, Obama’s nominee and criticize his handling of the War on Terror. It’s all principals, and not principles.

    1. Where did Nick make a claim to the contrary?

      1. Reading comprehension fail on my part.

    2. What about Ron Wyden? (with the exception of gun control, of course) Al Franken is pretty good too (again, except on guns).

      1. What about Ron Wyden? (with the exception of gun control, of course)

        Believe me, gun control isn’t the only exception…

      2. Isn’t Franken recently trying to use RICO to prosecute “climate change deniers”?

        1. Nah, that’s Sheldon Whitehouse. Franken is the tool who said:

          “[Net Neutrality] is absolutely the First Amendment issue of our time. Do we want deep-pocketed corporations controlling what information you get at what speed?”

          Civil libertarian as fuuuuuuuck.

    3. I love Nick and the Jacket to death but I wished he would stop deluding himself on the idea that the Democrats have some civil liberties friendly people.

      Actually the Democrats have lots of people who are civil-liberties friendly.

      (Sanders) said, “Count me in as someone who is a very strong civil libertarian who believes we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”

      See? Bernie’s civil-liberties friendly.

      Now ask him which rights he’s talking about. Right to a living wage, right to free medical care, right to free education, right to union representation, right to money-free politics, right to a protected manufacturing job, right to healthy food, right to a gun-free society, and so on. It’s a different list of “liberties” than libertarians use.

      1. Why do they keep ignoring the complete disrespect for rights to implement this BS? Bernie Stalin would have to smash my economic freedom and right to negotiate.

      2. (Sanders) said, “Count me in as someone who is a very strong civil libertarian who believes we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”

        A socialist who is a very strong civil libertarian? A socialtarian? Maybe we need to move to n. korea, or cuba or venezuela. I bet they think they are very strong social libertarians also.

  2. Right on, Nick. But I am still puzzled about a specific aspect of this affair.

    Apparently the FBI told the county employer to change the iCloud password. This was supposedly done to make it easier for the FBI to get into the phone, but it made more difficult. Why? Doesn’t IT know what they changed the password to? Why can’t they tell the FBI the new iCloud password?

    1. They made the password Freedom, and the FBI guy’s fingers burn every time he tries to enter it

      1. + 10^42

    2. They know what they changed it to but not what it was before so they can’t change it back.

      They have already given the FBI all the iCloud info as of the last iPhone backup. They were hoping that if they put the phone back on a known wi-fi network it would auto-backup the current data and they wouldn’t need to hack the actual phone. Since they changed the iCloud password the phone can no longer auto-backup.

      1. Here’s the detailed explanation.

    3. Why can’t they tell the FBI the new iCloud password?

      The FBI mistakenly tells a county employee to kick them in the nuts and you’re wondering if the county employee can explain why or how he kicked them in the nuts?

      Personally, I’m surprised the phone is still intact;
      County “IT” Pogue: OMG! I have a terrorists cell phone! What do I do?
      FBI Agent: OK, calm down, the first thing we need to do is make sure the phone is disabled and won’t update.
      *blam**blam**blam*
      County “IT” Pogue: OK, now what?

    4. The password change is one of the things in this affair that makes no sense. Another is the FBI or whoever letting a drove of media loose in the killers’ apartment before a detailed forensic examination could be done.

      1. The FBI is ramping up their incompetence in order to discredit their investigation into Hitlery Kkklinton.

      2. The FBI was done with the apartment when the owner let the media in.

    5. Isn’t that what the NSA’s for? If they can’t then what good are they?

  3. I think it it is fair to say, given past actions, Tim Cook does want the government to favor a particular set of values.

  4. “Hillary Clinton Joins The ‘Make Silicon Valley Break Encryption’ Bandwagon.”

    Clinton supporters: Don’t let the the things you want be the enemy of the things I want!

  5. The Libertarian Party is the Geoffrey Plantagenet of 21st Century politics. “Pick me, Father, I’m all you have left.”

  6. Appeal not to elites embedded in organizations that have been around since before the Civil War and are played out. Tell the Tom Cottons and the Dianne Feinsteins of the world to screw off and appeal directly to those of us who understand we want a world freed from politics as much as possible, not one in which politicians get to dictate what businesses and individuals do

    What would Cook get from an appeal to libertarians besides some cheerleading articles in a small magazine or two? What he needs is to stay as much as possible on the sweet side of government and hanging with the government’s Remoras is a way to help that along. He will swap some Trump-fighting money for help in his encryption troubles.

    1. Sad but true. Any business that actively shuns those with power will face consequences.

      1. Interestingly, Microsoft had little or no spending on political lobbyists until after they were raked over the antitrust coals. Needless to say that changed very quickly thereafter.

        I don’t know how much Apple is spending in Washington, but they pretty much have a duty to shareholders to take advantage of anything their competitors take advantage of. The whole system is corrosive and gross, but I wonder how much these big incumbent firms are interested in small-l libertarian ideals at this point.

        1. This is true of tech firms in general. Most of them were perfectly happy to ignore DC until DC noticed how much money they were making and stopped ignoring them. I get a lot of bitter amusement out of the “get money out of politics” crowd, since their determination to insert politics into everything ensures that will never happen. When a few regulations or lines of tax code can make the difference between a healthy profit and bankruptcy, companies are always going to find a way to influence legislation. Duh.

  7. Yeah, Tim: connect with libertarians more.

    Three words: Apple. Pay. Coin.

    Screw the FEDZ!

  8. Liber. Tarian. MOMENT!

  9. Why would Tim Cook join with libertarians? So he can start paying for things in Bitcoin and bitch about things that no one saw as problems before?

    Honestly, what have libertarians specifically done for the world in the last 20 years that justify the damage to shareholders that would result from not playing ball with government and the dominant players at least a little bit?

    Libertarianism in its current form is most definitely the ideology of the proles or whoever else doesn’t have power or a real ability to put any of their ideas into existence. Hell, I’d almost say that it’s that way by design, and always will be until someone figures out how to organize libertarians into a cohesive, effective group.

    1. HOW TO MONETIZE?!

    2. But he’s already not playing ball with the government.

  10. Be together. Not the same.

  11. Fuck Tom Cotton in the neck.

    That is all. He really is a fucking odious piece of work.

  12. If tomorrow the Ayatollah Khamenei ran for president with a “D” after his name, he could count on Tim Cook’s support. There’s a delusion in the Silicon Valley that Democrats are pro-science and pro-technology and no matter how often that’s disproved the Silico-idiots will vote for Democrats. If attempts to charge Phil Zimmerman, the inventor of PGP encryption, with a violation of the Arms Control Act didn’t dissuade them from their unconditional support of Democrats, nothing will.

    I’m sure that right now Cook is finding excuses for Obama’s Injustice Department and is desperately trying to find a way to blame Republicans. I am even more certain that the word libertarian has never entered Cook’s mind during this encryption farce.

    1. Uhh, did I miss something? Tim Cook and Apple have been pretty non-political.

        1. How is reducing their own CO2 or whatever political, though? It’s good marketing with a lot of people, for sure, but I don’t think that condemns them.

          For the world’s 1st/2nd most valuable company, they have done remarkably little lobbying.

          1. For the world’s 1st/2nd most valuable company, they have done remarkably little lobbying

            A miserly $4.1 million in 2014, the pikers.

        2. Cook has been singing from the pop-leftist hymnal for years. The entire Silicon Valley is one huge intellectually gated community that effectively keeps out “those ideas” just like the gated communities that exist to keep out “those people”. Cook would have the same reaction to a libertarian idea that people living in Bel Air Estates would have to seeing someone in their neighborhood with a car up on blocks in front of his single wide mobile home.

      1. Lisa holds a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Tulane University. She serves on the boards of Princeton, Tulane, and the Clinton Foundation.

  13. IMO, the real reason that Tim Cook won’t identify with Libertarians is that for 99.9% of American, politics isn’t so much about rational problem-solving as it is about tribal identification. If you think Team Blue is good people, you identify with Team Blue. If the Blue leadership does some bad things, then you try to work with them…but jump ship? No way – those other tribes are bad people!

    1. One might argume tribal identification *is* rational – if your access to govt contracts and power, etc. depends on who you know, you want to be in with one of the major parties, if not both.

      1. This is one of libertarianism’s greatest organizational weaknesses, and to some extent also a philosophical hurdle for some libertarians on the floor level to recognize: Step 0 for doing anything of consequence is to have a tribe, and Steps 1-[Infinity] are about making your tribe the best that it can be. This is not a bad thing and has enabled civilization to exist. Libertarians should opt out of pretending not to have a tribe (they clearly do), and opt into recognizing their tribe and doing clean-up with the like-minded. It’s far more likely that they’ll remain passive observers of the horrible things government tries to do instead of organizing to end them. For that reason, people who need to manage and do things in the real world are unlikely to stick their necks out for people who won’t even stick their necks out to improve the world according to their values, much less defend people who are of their tribe. So even if a guy like Tim Cook is interested, he’s unlikely to air any crypto-libertarian tendencies he might have into the world of public opinion.

      2. This is one of libertarianism’s greatest organizational weaknesses, and to some extent also a philosophical hurdle for some libertarians on the floor level to recognize: Step 0 for doing anything of consequence is to have a tribe, and Steps 1-[Infinity] are about making your tribe the best that it can be. This is not a bad thing and has enabled civilization to exist. Libertarians should opt out of pretending not to have a tribe (they clearly do), and opt into recognizing their tribe and doing clean-up with the like-minded. It’s far more likely that they’ll remain passive observers of the horrible things government tries to do instead of organizing to end them. For that reason, people who need to manage and do things in the real world are unlikely to stick their necks out for people who won’t even stick their necks out to improve the world according to their values, much less defend people who are of their tribe. So even if a guy like Tim Cook is interested, he’s unlikely to air any crypto-libertarian tendencies he might have into the world of public opinion.

  14. Yeah, but Libertarians have zero politic power, so what’s the point of sucking up to them?

  15. All true, but in the end, Cook has to answer to our government which is comprised of neanderthal Dems and Rinos. Simply telling them to “screw” can only go so far. The Fed tentacles are far-reaching and sharp.

  16. Lower-case libertarians exist in both of the major parties, and we exist of course in the official Libertarian Party (I’m not a member, fwiw).

    That’s easily fixed. You can join the Libertarian Party.

    1. funny how dems/gop can not come to terms with this. i have to remind people all the time that we have our own party and it is not necessary to politically evangelize us…vote Libertarian, vote often.

  17. Ubiquitous law enforcement is super dangerous.

  18. It will take a Trump/Clinton dictatorship for libertarians to get the respect we have long deserved.

    1. The night is always darkest before the dawn.

  19. RE:

    Dear Tim Cook: Republicans Aren’t Your Allies & Neither Are Democrats But Libertarians Are
    The real axis in American politics is authoritarianism vs. libertarianism.

    My God!
    Somebody actually got it right?
    Is hell freezing over?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.