One of Apple’s most outspoken critics is backing the company’s stance on encryption. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle, says Apple CEO Tim Cook has his full support in his efforts to maintain unbreakable encryption. It’s the modern-day equivalent, Jackson says, of preventing police abuse of power.
Jackson ought to know. Now the president of Rainbow/PUSH, a nonprofit organization meant to spur corporate action on social issues, he worked and traveled with King from 1965, when he marched on Selma, Alabama, until the civil rights leader’s assassination in 1968. During that time, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, with backing from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, used wiretaps and other surveillance techniques to monitor King and his associates, believing they were communist agents.
Now, Jackson told International Business Times in a phone interview Wednesday, he’s supporting Apple to prevent the same thing from happening again. The technology company is locked in a standoff with the FBI and U.S. Justice Department over the government’s request to unlock the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, one of the shooters who killed 14 people in a San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack on Dec. 2. Apple has said that creating software to unlock the phone would set a dangerous precedent by allowing government prosecutors to dictate how effectively technology protects users.
International Business Times: You’ve been very critical of Apple and other tech companies for their lack of workforce diversity. What made you support Apple in this case?
Jesse Jackson: Privacy from government intrusion is a big issue with a lot of history attached to it. Our government has a history of abusing our information and politicizing it. When they really want to come after leaders who are rebelling against the system, they will use the tools of the government to legitimize that.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy, after much pressure, gave J. Edgar Hoover permission to use surveillance against Dr. King. They tapped his home phone, his office phone and his hotel rooms. He was on the enemies list, so if you think about our current time of real polarized politics, can you imagine Trump or Cruz having the ability to convene the FBI director and top national security directors to put together their own enemies list? Our privacy is a basic human right, and we just can’t trust the government not to violate it.
IBT: Have you spoken with Tim Cook about this?
Jackson: I spoke with him briefly about this at the Apple shareholders meeting last month and we wrote a letter of support to the court. I think that what Tim Cook is doing is just noble. It’s a company that deals with the government, and he has acted on his integrity. I stand with him on this case because we all want our civil liberties protected, and there are ways to do that while stopping terrorists.
IBT: Are you absolutist on this? Are there any instances when the FBI should have the right to break the encryption on a suspected terrorist’s phone?
Jackson: It’s hard to unscramble an egg. If we need to give up our basic rights then the terrorists have won. They will use this ability as a substitute for investigative hard work.
I was with Dr. King when our meetings were being tapped for no good reason. Members of our staff were followed and attacked because our phones were tapped. Once they open up on you they have no limits to how crude they can be. They would pay hotel maids to check for semen on our sheets.
The government is forever trying to cross that line, and I think we should resist it. Now that we’re in social media there’s a whole new world of getting access.
IBT: Are you satisfied with the progress these tech companies have made since you started lobbying them to issue transparency reports on their workforce makeup?
Jackson: Racial exclusion is in the DNA of our culture. Sometimes it’s as active as blocking a school door and sometimes it’s a cultural insensitivity.
We’ve begun to make progress but it’s a slow and sometimes begrudging progress. When we first went to HP they had no blacks or Hispanics on their board, but now they have four. Apple now has Jim Bell on their board.
The fact of the matter is there is no basis for companies that enjoy government subsidies and tax breaks to be free of government standard inclusion. This kind of compliance should be the order of the day for companies that are trying to get tax breaks and offshore havens. There’s no shortage of talent, there’s shortage of opportunity.
The black and brown community represents a wealth of talent. There’s no reason to expand the number of H-1B [visa] workers because there’s no job we cannot manage in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics side as well as jobs in the non-STEM side. They say they can’t find enough black engineers? That’s not true, they have not been searching for them where they’re being produced. They need to start searching at black colleges, which they’re beginning to do now because of our public pressure.
There’s no skill required, even beyond tech, including lawyers and attorneys and accountants, that can’t be met.