The Apple/FBI Standoff Reveals the Contradictions in the Role of the State

It is fairly clear that Apple’s position on encryption in their standoff with the FBI is rooted in the expectation that consumers will respond favorably to a “defense” of their privacy. Less clear is what imagery the State hopes to project of itself. Rather than fulfilling its role as the protector of capital and its accumulation by oligopolies, the state would seem to be seeking to undermine the security of devices indispensable to daily life for those who can afford iPhones, a group that includes businesspersons who use their phones in their service to capital. There can be no doubting that the state intends to use their hack into iPhones for surveillance of dissident movements and not for the undermining of the security of the circuits of capital. But if critics of the FBI’s actions are to believed, the creation of a means of hacking completely locked iPhones could be a means for non-state actors to hack iPhones. The information on these personal devices could be used to infiltrate corporate computer systems for the purposes of financial fraud. Of course, even the potential for fraud would not be large enough to cause investors to leave the financial markets en masse, a fact the State would seem to implicitly recognize, judging by the acts of the FBI. Yet we are still faced with the point that the state is undermining the circulation of capital, both by creating the possibility of more breaches of personal devices and thereby non-personal systems, and by engaging Apple in a public debate that in the end might damage Apple’s brand if they lose to the FBI, reducing their sales and their role in the circulation of capital globally through their subsidiaries.

The Apple/FBI standoff has revealed the contradictions in the role of the State to be increasingly destabilizing. The State functions to protect the mobilization of capital and the enforcement of property rights, and yet, seeks to undertake actions that could indeed undercut the movement of capital in order to more generally protect circulation of capital for the long term. Althusser noted that the Russian revolution was presaged by a configuration of contradictions so numerous that rupture was overdetermined. Add the Apple/FBI standoff to the growing list of contradictions at the heart of the American state.


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