In the last week, Apple unveiled “NeuralHash,” a tool that will hasten our move toward a dystopian post-privacy world. The company informed the world this week that it would be adding the NeuralHash to its network of over a billion iPhones, storage platforms, and other resources. The NeuralHash will allow it to scan images before they are uploaded to iCloud for child pornography. The user will then be disabled and reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
As with Facebook’s campaign for people to embrace censorship by calling it “content modification”, Apple has repackaged perpetual monitoring as “perceptual hashing.” Not surprising, these pitches for eroding expectations of speech or privacy are presented as as harmless, even reassuring. After all, the only people who need to worry are those with images constituting child porn. Of course, that determination will be made by a bot who will present people for review using algorithms looking for Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others are already sharing digital fingerprints of known child sexual abuse images.
The controversy over Apple’s new system raises not just privacy concerns but broader concerns over the shifting of power from the government to corporate figures. In critical areas, United States is moving from a democracy to a corporatocracy where critical rights and privileges are effectively controlled by a small number of CEOs. The founding fathers of that corporatocracy are figures like Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Tim Cook (Apple), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). It is an alternative government created by acclamation rather than any constitution. From free speech to Covid mandates, many on the left, including the Biden Administration, have called for policies to be carried out by corporations like a type of shadow state. At the same time, companies like Facebook have been running commercials for months to try to convince people to embrace corporate censorship over their own speech. Yet, in this brave new world of corporate governance, nothing quite prepared many of us for
Apple will now use its phones to actively spy on over a billion users to see if any have photos that may be CSAM in order to report them. Imagine the post-privacy world unfolding literally before us. People will have no choice if they have an iPhone in allowing a corporation to monitor their photos. Then, when they use their phones on social media, Twitter and Facebook will censor any views that they object to on subject ranging from Covid to gender identification to Hunter Biden’s laptop to election fraud to even criticism of governments.
At the same time, the Biden White House has decided that it does not want to deal with the legal or political challenges of seeking to impose a national vaccine mandate.
Instead, President Biden has called on corporations to carry out the mandate.
The Democratic embracing of corporate governance is a matter of simple convenience. Corporations now overwhelmingly support the left on key political issues, and some seem to have virtually written off roughly half of the country that voted for Donald Trump. More importantly, Democrats cannot limit speech, impose national vaccine mandates, or deny privacy through the government. However, surrogate corporations can since the First Amendment and other constitutional provisions address government not corporate abuses. Much of the Constitution then becomes largely relevant – your rights are entirely protected except from the main source of their denial.
What is really maddening is that companies like Facebook and Apple do not simply want us to yield core rights to them but to love them for it. After all, the cheerful hip figures on the Facebook censorship commercial like “Joshan” only want you to “change” to allow your “blending of the real world and the internet world.” Then there is Apple which simply tells you to “Think Different” with all of the other worthy netizens at the “Genius bar.”
In this new world, free speech itself is a danger rather than the very thing that defines us. Privacy is a shield used by those who want to harm children. “Changing” with Joshan means learning to love corporate monitoring and “modifications.”
Carrying around your own personal surveillance device is not the only thing that you will lose in Apple’s Orwellian NeuralHash. In the end, the powers of both corporations and the government will be enhanced by our modified selves. Under the controlling standard of the “Katz” test, our privacy is protected from warrantless surveillance by our “expectations of privacy.” When such expectations exist, the government generally must obtain a warrant after showing probable cause that a crime is or has been committed. However, as our expectations fall, the government can engage in more warrantless surveillance. As it engages in more warrantless surveillance, our expectation fall further. Well, you get the idea.
We are increasingly living in a fishbowl society where monitoring (that would have once outraged Americans) is treated as part of life. When we leave our homes were are monitored on the road or at the 7-11 buying coffee. We are monitored on the streets and in our workplaces. We are monitored all the way home in the evening. Now, once at home our images will be monitored and our communications are “modified” according to what corporations want us to see and say.
The response from the left today is that none of this is a problem because corporations are not controlled by the Constitution. After all, if you want a phone that does not spy on you, invent one and compete with Apple with your own global network. Simple.
The current limited function of the NeuralHash is simply the decision of Apple. However, it is a new technology that can be expanded to other images and could potentially be used by the government. I recently testified in Congress about the rapid loss of privacy due to the government’s use of national security letters and other devices to search the iCloud and to obtain “metadata.” This includes the use of secret orders to corporations to spy on journalists during the Obama, Trump, and Biden Administrations. We already have ample powers to investigate and prosecute child pornography but this function will now be taken up by the corporatocracy which is not directly controlled any more than by Fourth Amendment than the First Amendment.
Like authoritarian governments, authoritarian corporations always have an appealing reason for limiting freedoms. Fighting terrorism or child porn or “misinformation” often leave free speech or privacy as mere abstractions. After all, the idea is to “Think Different” about privacy. Indeed, you have to think differently from the original Apple when many of us bought its first computer. Back then Apple was portrayed in its famous “1984” Mac commercial as literally smashing the authoritarian conformity of Big Brother. Now, conformity is good. After all, as Orwell himself wrote in 1984, “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”