Jesse Jackson in Washington, DC, in August 2013.
Kris Connor—Getty Images
By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
March 17, 2016
IDEAS
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., is a civil rights activist and President and Founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

The terrorists win when we allow fear to chip away at the U.S. Constitution, our national soul, our freedom, our way of life. That is why the government, courts, private companies and individual citizens must defend and uphold—however unpopular—our First Amendment rights, our right to privacy and basic freedoms. That is why I stand with Apple in its encryption battle with the FBI.

I mourn the loss of 14 lives snatched away by terrorists in San Bernardino last December. Like every American, I am steadfast in supporting legitimate law enforcement measures to root out terrorism and protect our national security.

But if the government prevails against Apple, it is my belief that it will accelerate—and make easier—government efforts to “hack” into the legitimate activities of human rights organizations and activists, as happened time and time again during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The recent revelation of the government’s use of drones to conduct domestic spying shows how vulnerable everyday Americans are to invasive surveillance.

That is why the Rainbow PUSH Coalition opposes the FBI’s demand that Apple create new software to enable the government to access information from its iPhones. It represents an unprecedented government overreach that threatens the civil liberties and privacy rights of all Americans. Although the government argues that its demand of Apple is for one time only, one device only, it has been reported that the authorities have already requested that Apple unlock its iPhones in nine other cases.

At great risk, CEO Tim Cook and Apple are standing up not just for their company, but for everyday civilians who cringe at the thought of the government compromising their privacy rights.

Rainbow PUSH supports the formation of a digital security commission. Hopefully, such a commission will create policy that protects personal freedoms and privacy, and respects both civil liberties and the needs of law enforcement and national security.

The Apple case is a matter of deep personal concern to me—given the past and present illegal and unwarranted spying and surveillance of civil rights organizations, much conducted under the guise of national security. The FBI infiltrated the Southern Christian Leadership conference and used wire-tapping and personal threats against Dr. Martin Luther King—with the support of other US government agencies—to discredit him and the civil rights movement.

The FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign spied on, infiltrated and disrupted domestic civil rights and political groups. Rainbow PUSH Coalition and I, personally, have been subject to spying and surveillance, and more recently, there have been accounts of surveillance of the Black Lives Matter movement and activists.

What is also fresh in many people’s minds is how major tech and telecom companies—as disclosed by Edward Snowden—collaborated with the National Security Agency in a global surveillance operation to obtain private information from millions of American people about their phone calls and Internet activity.

There is a toxic wind blowing across the country. Fear and fistfights erupt at political rallies. Children in Flint, Mich., drink poisoned water. Poverty and joblessness threaten to turn our inner cities into wastelands. Violent acts of terrorism, both domestic and global, are on the rise—from racist extremists in the Midwest to suicide bombers in the Middle East.

More than ever we need to have faith and trust in the government to serve and protect our rights and freedoms. But if the government fails to do so, we must.

As Dr. King often said, before he was gunned down in an act of domestic terrorism right before my eyes, “Where we stand in times of controversy is a measure of our character. Some leaders only follow opinion polls. Others stand up for their principles, refuse to compromise, and mold opinion.”

On this issue, I stand with Apple, and stand up for civil rights.

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