The Washington Post reported on some of the more nuanced problems with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Apple Dilemma. Putting aside the fact that the FBI claims it cannot hack an iPhone, the privacy concerns are paramount, especially among dissenters and protesters:
Black Lives Matter activists are siding with Apple in the company’s legal showdown with the FBI over a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters.
“We urge you to consider the dire implications for free speech and civil liberties if the FBI is permitted to force Apple to create technology to serve its investigatory purposes,” a coalition of activists and civil rights organizations wrote in letter to a California court Thursday supporting the tech company. “The FBI’s historically questionable surveillance procedures do not bode well for setting a precedent that allows the agency universal access to private smartphone data.”
Privacy — especially from the spying eyes of the government — is personal for the civil rights community at least in part because of the movement’s history with the FBI.
In the 1950s, the bureau ran an initiative called COINTELPRO. At first, it was aimed at disrupting communist activities, but the program was later expanded to target other domestic groups including the Black Panther Party, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The FBI started spying directly on the civil rights leader in 1963, not long after the March on Washington, according to historian Beverly Gage: It placed wiretaps on the phones in his home and offices, as well as bugging devices in his hotel rooms. That surveillance uncovered evidence of King’s extramarital affairs, which the bureau (unsuccessfully) pitched to the news media.
Perhaps frustrated by the lack of interest in the press, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in November 1964 publicly denounced the civil rights leader as “the most notorious liar in the country” during a news conference. A few days later, one of Hoover’s subordinates sent King a disturbing letter: It was designed to look like it was from a disenchanted supporter, but referenced audio recordings as evidence of King’s infidelity and urged the civil rights leader to kill himself.
The FBI itself now acknowledges the violations of COINTELPRO, noting on its website that the program was “later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.”