In a Boston Globe op-ed published today, two prominent Massachusetts technology leaders warn that “the future of America’s high-tech industry is at stake in the FBI’s effort to force Apple to break open the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.”
Paul Sagan, former CEO of Akamai Technologies, based in Cambridge, and Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, based in Bedford, point out that the outcome of the battle between the DOJ and the Cupertino, California based technology giant won’t just impact digital security for millions of people around the globe, for decades to come. Also at stake is the success of the US technology industry, which is especially central to the health of the Massachusetts economy.
Sagan and Angle write:
Law firms, banks, hospitals, and other corporations that today rely on auto updates and secure technology products to protect sensitive information would face the threat of crippling industrial espionage or security breaches. As a result, they would soon look outside the US for products they can trust.
The economic impact of such a precedent would be crippling. American tech companies generate hundreds of billions in revenue each year. The Department of Commerce estimates that there are more than 100,000 software and information technology companies in the United States. Some 2 million American workers take home paychecks from technology companies, and they have some of our nation’s best jobs.
The Massachusetts economy is uniquely dependent on technology industries. While Silicon Valley is home to some of the largest technology companies, Massachusetts boasts the largest tech workforce per capita.
The industry group CompTIA estimates that 1 in 10 Bay State workers is employed in the technology sector. These 286,000 tech jobs offer an average annual wage of $121,000. The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, in turn, finds that tech industry business and employee spending sustains another 400,000 workers statewide.
Some of the businesses that make up our state’s thriving tech sector are well established firms like Akamai and iRobot, but many are smaller startups that employ fewer than 50 people and operate on comparatively shoe-string budgets. That’s why it’s so important that Apple, a company with seemingly infinite resources, is taking on this fight, represented by the best lawyers money can buy. Smaller technology companies would not be able to take on the Department of Justice in a similar legal battle. Like Ladar Levison, the founder of the now defunct secure email company Lavabit, their operations would probably fold under the weight of DOJ pressure. That means research, development, and innovation in secure technologies would be pushed outside of the United States, with terrible consequences for technology consumers and our economy.
In 2016, we are only into the second decade of the internet revolution. The legal battles we fight now set precedent that will shape the internet of our future—with impact that will be felt for decades to come. That’s why it’s so critical that Apple win this battle. If they don’t, every technology company in Massachusetts and throughout the rest of the United States will face obstacles to innovation and consumer trust so severe that they may begin to leave the country. That wouldn’t only be a disastrous path for internet freedom and civil liberties; it would also cripple technology business. And as Sagan and Angle argue, that’s a prospect Massachusetts—with our economic reliance on high-tech business—simply cannot afford.