Sen. Tom Cotton's 'Brand' Depends on Americans Remaining Ignorant, Fearful of Apple's Encryption

Accusing Apple of "hyperbole" is pretty ballsy...and utterly wrongheaded.


Tom Cotton
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Did you hear about the senator who just blasted a major American corporation for putting its profits ahead of what the government insists is best for the country?

No, I'm not talking about Bernie Sanders. I'm talking about Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.

Today in a Time commentary Cotton continues to push both the fearmongering argument that encryption makes us all vulnerable to terrorists and criminals and that Apple is only interest in protecting its "brand." The "this is just a branding" talking point seems to have come only out of the mouths of government representatives and seems to have fallen spectacularly flat as an argument. It depends on the American public not recognizing or caring that this "branding" is based on protecting them from hackers and cybercrime, so it's not even clear who the target for this argument is.

Even after so much tech and mainstream reporting about the potential terrible consequences to data privacy and, well, our very national security if Apple goes down this road of weakening the security of its phones, Cotton is apparently going to ride this horse until its knees buckle:

But an Edward Snowden-driven marketing strategy doesn't exempt Apple from its duties as an American company under the law. The FBI's request in this case is not different from other investigative searches approved by courts under Fourth Amendment. The request is limited to this particular investigation, and does not affect the privacy of Americans.

That's Cotton's entire counterargument to the now hundreds of stories about the possible consequences of the weakening of encryption to the privacy and safety of Americans: simply asserting that it doesn't affect the rest of us. The end.

And then there's this doozy of a paragraph:

[Apple CEO Tim] Cook was correct when he wrote to his employees that "our country has always been strongest when we come together." But Mr. Cook's decision to create and defend a zone of impunity for terrorists and then demagoge about a fantasy Orwellian surveillance state to smear his critics is the exact opposite of coming together. It's a profit-driven stance that uses hyperbole and scare tactics to divide the country and mask what are only recent changes in Apple's marketing strategy and technology.

Cook is the one using hyperbole and scare tactics? I wonder if he was able to type that without laughing after saying Apple was creating a "zone of impunity for terrorists." And he thinks the idea of an Orwellian surveillance state is just a fantasy? Well, probably, because he no doubt doesn't see the violations of our privacy that Edward Snowden helped alert us all to as violations of our privacy at all. But even if one were to accept that argument, does he simply not care about what goes on in other countries?

The sheer obliviousness of the argument is just jarring. He simply asserts that Americans will not be affected without factually countering anything Apple has said. He simply doesn't engage in any of the arguments against his position. Those are the hallmarks of somebody engaging in "hyperbole and scare tactics."

"Good news! We don't have to put the election on the cover this week!"

In any event, while Time may have given Cotton space to attack capitalism and individual liberty from the right, it put Cook himself on the cover of the latest issue, with a lengthy interview. Good quotes from Cook:

I know everybody wants to paint it as privacy versus security, as if you can give up one and get more of the other. I think it's very simplistic and incorrect. I don't see it that way at all.

Because the reality is that if you—let's say you just pulled encryption. Let's ban it. Let's you and I ban it tomorrow. And so we sit in Congress and we say, thou shalt not have encryption. What happens then? Well, I would argue that the bad guys will use encryption from non-American companies, because they're pretty smart and encryption isn't—I don't own encryption, Apple doesn't own encryption. Encryption, as you know, is everywhere. In fact some of encryption is funded by our government. Some of the best encryption is funded by the government. But you'll see encryption coming out of most countries in the world.

So if you're worried about messaging, which I think is primarily the worry in this scenario, people will just move to something else. You know if you legislate against Facebook and Apple and Google and whatever else in the US, they'll just use something else. So are we really safer then? I would say no. I would say we're less safe, because now we've opened up all of the infrastructure for people to go wacko at.

Read more here.