Apple vs the FBI, a Dispute as Seen From the Cuban Prism

An Apple iPhone. (EFE)

An Apple iPhone. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Washington, 5 March 2016 — When they returned his mobile phone all his contacts had been erased and the card with the photos was gone. Stories like this are repeated among activists who have been detained, over whom an iron vigilance is maintained with the complicity of the Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), the technology arm of repression in Cuba. An entity that should take note of the rebuff Apple has dealt the FBI in the United States, by refusing to access its clients’ data.

For decades, Cuban society has become accustomed to the government’s failing to respect individuals’ private spaces. The state has the power to delve into personal correspondence, to display medical records in front of the cameras, to air private messages on television, and to broadcast phone conversations between critics of the system. In such a framework, intimacy doesn’t exist, one’s personal space has been invaded by power.

People see as “normal” that the phones are tapped and that in the homes of opponents hidden microphones capture even the smallest sigh. It has become common practice for ETECSA to cut off dissidents’ phone service during certain national events or visits from foreign leaders, and to block the reception of messages whose contents upset them. This Orwellian situation has gone on for so long, that few take note any more of the illegality involved and the violation of citizens’ rights it entails.

The feeling of constant supervision has come to affect the way we speak, filling it with whispers, gestures and metaphors, to avoid saying those words that could get us into trouble. To the extent that few mention the names of Fidel or Raul Castro, substituting a gesture over the face as if touching a beard, or making slanted eyes, or placing two fingers on one’s shoulder to allude to “them,” “the power,” “the government,” “the Party.”

The limits of the state to obtain private information are currently at the center of an international debate, sparked by the United States government demand that the technology company Apple unblock the telephone used by a terrorist, who participated in a shooting in California where 14 people died. The discussions have risen in tone between those who brandish the needs of the security agency, and those who see it as a danger to violate the rights to protected data.

These kinds of questions are very far from Cuban society, where the need to reconquer the privacy lost over more than half a century of the interference of power in every sphere of daily life is never publicly raised. Even keeping a private diary, closing the door of a bedroom, or speaking softly, are frowned upon by a system that tried to replace individuality with massification, and to eradicate intimacy in the promiscuity of shelters or barracks.

Apple fears that by creating software to unlock its phones, it cannot avoid the government or hackers from collecting the private information of millions of innocents. It knows that any power is insatiable with regards to the information it wants to have about others, hence the law should curb and rein in those excesses of interference that characterize all governments.

The dispute over privacy and security will continue for a long time, because it is the eternal tension between the limits of social space versus personal space. The clash between the interests of any nation and that fragile but essential part that makes us individuals.


9 thoughts on “Apple vs the FBI, a Dispute as Seen From the Cuban Prism

  1. I am a U.S. citizen just back from an 18-day trip to Cuba. It was a deeply emotional learning experience that I decided to turn into an article. These were my concluding thoughts.

    There’s obviously a huge disconnect between the idealism of the revolution and what is actually taking place in Cuba; although foreigners seem to be convinced that the government has to change. “It cannot be otherwise,” one American told me. “They need our tourist dollars to survive.” I begged to differ. It has been 26 years since the Soviet Union forsook Cuba, and it has been 20 years since the U.S. imposed the harsher embargo restrictions of the Helms-Burton Act. Yet the Cuban government has continued to believe that the merits of the revolution far outweigh any gains to be had from striking up a relationship with the evil imperialist powers. To be sure, they turn a blind eye to the influences of the market forces already infiltrating the social fabric of their beloved revolution. But as I’ve noted, they are quick to squelch any blatant departure from the spirit of the revolution. They tolerate the creation of black markets and the violation of their many laws. But let one person step into the limelight with a successful enterprise and it will be squelched.

    On March 21, President Obama will be in Cuba. What can he do that will make a difference? Before I went to Cuba, I was convinced that lifting of the embargo could only help the Cuban people. I am no longer so convinced. From everything I observed, I see no motivation on the part of this government to change. If the government can go 26 years under the most extreme austere conditions, continuing to deny people basic rights of assembly and self-determination, I see no reason why they should change with an influx of capital. I fear instead that they will use these new funds to further suppress their people. For example, I can see them developing new technologies to monitor the attitudes and behaviors of their citizens, in other words, the CDRs on steroids. Furthermore, I fear they will more aggressively export their revolutionary ideas to developing countries as they did through the support of the Soviet Union. No one should be fooled; Cuba still holds Che Guevera as the model of its international revolutionary intentions.

    So what can President Obama do? If I were him, I would publicly announce, hopefully on all four Cuban channels, that the United States will provide Internet access to the entire country of Cuba free of charge. Last summer Google made the very same offer. This, I believe, would represent a direct challenge to the governing elite. They claim they are not afraid of the truth. They claim they have the support of the Cuban people. But then why not allow Internet or e-mail in the homes of their citizens? Force this issue and if it is accepted, take every other condition off the table. I believe that nothing will change the dynamics of this regime more than giving a voice to its people. The people I’ve met on this trip want nothing more than to be heard.

  2. Personal space is an approximate area surrounding an individual in which other people should not physically violate in order for them to feel comfortable and secure. It is the zone around individuals which they regard as psychologically theirs. The amount of personal space required for any given person is subjective. It also depends on how well you know the other person. The more intimate the relationship, the less personal space is involved.

    The law in the United States does not recognize a specific crime or civil action based on violation of personal space per se. However, the law does recognize various actions based on assault or harassment.

    Police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday.

    The court said cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest. Because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

    “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” Roberts wrote. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

  3. You have exactly caught the point in this issue. Unfortunately USA judges and public opinion believes that since the USA is the “land of freedom” and a democratic country , just bending a little rule in privacy is largely compensated by the freedom you have in the country. But history has shown that even the best democracies can be turned into oligarchic system (and USA is on that path) or even dictatorships (it happened hundred of times). Also in the current world, this case if Apple would comply or would be forced to comply, will support and encourage other States to do the same. And at that point any Dictatorship or even Democracies will be encouraged to violated the individual right to privacy. When you start on the road of violating individuals right you don’t know where you end up.

  4. Pingback: Apple vs the FBI, a Dispute as Seen From the Cuban Prism | I am Puddin'

  5. Pingback: Reports from Cuba: Apple vs. the FBI, a dispute as seen from the Cuban prism | Babalú Blog

  6. Obama draws lines in the sand only to cross them when it suits him, like in the case of the chemical weapons in Syria. Iran was on the brink of political change as oil prices, sanctions and popular dissent were undermining the Islamic regime power, when Obama through it a lifeline. His travel to Cuba will not benefit the Cuban people nor improve the human rights.

    GLOBAL VOICE: Cuba Si, Google No: Cuban Officials Rumored to Reject Google’s Free WiFi Offer – 17 July 2015
    Top Cuban officials allegedly have rejected an offer from Google to supply the island with free public WiFi throughout the country. Although neither the company nor the Cuban government has explicitly commented on the matter, multiple news sources seem to have drawn this conclusion from an interview in Juventud Rebelde (“Rebellious Youth”), the island’s long-standing youth newspaper. The interview featured Jose Ramon Machado, a contemporary of the Castro brothers, who after forty years at the helm of Cuba’s Union of Communist Youth appears as determined as ever to instill in young Cubans the values and morals of Cuba’s unique brand of Marxism.

    When the reporter asked Machado what he thought about the value of the Internet for Cuban youth, Machado’s response was clear:

    “Internet access is a great opportunity and at the same time a great challenge, because new technologies are novel and vital, not only for person-to-person communication, but also for development. Everyone knows why there isn’t more Internet [in Cuba]. It’s because of the high cost.

    There are those who would like to give us Internet for free, but they aren’t doing this so that Cubans can communicate with one another, rather they’re doing it with the goal of penetrating us on ideological grounds, in an effort to make a new conquest. We need to get Internet, but in our own way, recognizing that the imperialist intention is to use it as one more way to destroy the Revolution.


  8. KING OBAMA WANTS THIS US-CUBA DEAL FOR HIS LEGACY AT ALL COSTS! – MIAMI HERALD EDITORIAL : Obama should cancel Cuba trip if thwarted — If President Obama cannot meet with the dissidents of his choice — and of his choice alone — when he visits Cuba this month, then he should just stay home. Sure, it’s his chance to make history, his long-sought Nixon-to-China moment. But he risks looking weak, sycophantic, should he not conduct the trip on his own terms. Normalization with Cuba is supposed to be a two-way street — give some, get some. But, since December 2014, the United States has done most of the giving, with the Cuban dictatorship smug with the bulk of the getting. And the Ladies in White are still beaten up and thrown in jail every Sunday.

    Relations hit a big bump last week when Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to the island in advance of the president’s visit. According to U.S. officials, the State Department and its Cuban counterparts couldn’t reach “common agreement,” including on access to dissidents.

    Friday, however, things had been paved over, with Mr. Kerry and Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, affirming their commitment to making the president’s trip a successful one.

    But that will depend on how each side defines success. Mr. Obama should put Cuba’s human-rights abuses front and center. If he mutes the issue, then it allows the dictatorship to assume that it’s not a big deal for the United States, and that there’s absolutely no need for anything to change. After all, the regime is already getting that welcome influx of tourist money since the United States loosened travel restrictions.

    It’s imperative that the U.S. administration disabuse President Raúl Castro of that fantasybefore Mr. Obama arrives on March 21. So far it has been far too timid, and the regime has been bold in continuing to pull the wool over its eyes. And if it can do so again while Mr. Obama is paraded around Cuba, providing useful optics for Mr. Castro, then that for the regime, will be success.

    Read more here:

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