Apple Founder Steve Wozniak on Internet Democracy

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MEDIA ROOTS — When I think of the most prolific innovators of our generation, there are a couple names that immediately come to mind. The founders of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, are definitely at the top of the list. There’s no denying that Apple computers have aesthetically designed the world in which we all know and live in today–by simplifying technology to the point where everyone can use and access the internet, Apple products have changed the course of social interaction in the world.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, last week in downtown DC. Truthfully, I was a little worried that someone worth billions of dollars would be pretentious and aloof. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see how down to earth and open he was to share his perspective.

It was a refreshing and enlightening experience to hear from such a visionary on issues like MegaUpload’s Kim Dotcom, Net Neutrality, WikiLeaks, and government legislation that curbs our internet freedoms.



RT’s Abby Martin sits down with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple,

to speak about net neutrality and his fear that freedom on the Web might become a thing of the past.


RT — “Well, we begin today taking a close look at cyber-legislation and the aim to regulate the internet. With the failure of the most recent cyber bill in the Senate and a possible Obama Executive Order, it seems the government is looking for ways to beef up internet protection.

“The head of cyber command General Keith Alexander, also head of the NSA, has come out asking the administration to review the rules when it comes to cyber-attacks. Currently, the Pentagon is only allowed to defend against attacks inside its own boundaries. But they are hoping now to expand that power to outside of their own computer networks and within foreign countries.

“Now, this comes days after Kaspersky Labs identified another apparent state-sponsored virus with links to Stuxnet and Flame. So, as heavy as speculation swirls around the future of the internet, we, here at RT, sat down with someone who had a clear hand in creating our current cyber climate. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, speaks to RT’s Abby Martin about net neutrality, his fear that freedom on the internet could become a thing of the past. He also weighs in on the Kim Dotcom case against him.”

Abby Martin (c. 1:05)“So, Steve, as co-founder of one of the largest companies in the world, do you think that you have a responsibility to speak out about internet issues like internet regulation?”

Steve Wozniak“I don’t think anyone comes with a responsibility just because their company is really big. Especially, since I’m not the one who wanted to run a company, just be a great engineer to help start it. I don’t feel that anybody has a responsibility. However, I do like it when well-known people, that are in the public eye, speak out on social issues and give their opinion.”

Abby Martin“What do you think about legislation SOPA and PIPA? And why do you think they were so unpopular?”

Steve Wozniak“It turns out that the, well, the internet, when it first came, it was a breath of fresh air. It was so free. Nobody owned the internet space. Countries didn’t own it; they didn’t control it. It was worldwide. It was people to people. It was like we, little people of the world, all of a sudden had this incredible resource. And we didn’t have to go through other people selling it to us and delivering it to us. That has changed a lot. But, still, those were items, that were kind of against just being able to use the wires to send whatever you thought of to somebody else who’s a friend or whatever sharing data.

“So, a lot of people had done that sort of thing. They had freely shared maybe a song with a friend. Or maybe they shared another file with another good friend and they just don’t want interference. Now, sure, it’s illegal to share copyrighted material. Fine, there are laws in place. But these were new laws, that were gonna just totally try to put up roadblocks to services, that had other very good purposes in our life. 

“For example, I might make a promotional video for an interview like this and then I’ll email it to you. Well, it’s too big to email. So, I’ll upload it to a little site. It may be Dropbox, maybe it’s my Apple iDisk, maybe it’s Megaupload. I’ll upload it to a site and send you the URL and now you can download it.

And I do that regularly.”

Abby Martin (c. 2:52):  “I heard you previously talking about Kim Dotcom’s case. And you mentioned that the charges against him were pretty much phony. Elaborate more on what you mean by that.”

Steve Wozniak (c. 3:04):  “Yes, first of all, he ran one of the largest file-sharing services in the world. So, the most movies and all were being exchanged by people through that site. It’s not a site where you could link to it and connect to it and say, ‘Search for Avatar.’ There was no searching. Somebody could upload a file and then pass out a URL on their own. And they are violating the law, if it’s copyright material, like a movie. And the person, who downloads it, is violating the law, too.

“But what Kim Dotcom ran is just a service that’s like the post office. He was the post office it was being mailed through. Why do you shut down the post office, thinking that’s where the problem is? It’s not. So, that was a phony charge.

“They tried to charge him with a copyright violation, himself, for uploading 60 songs or something. But they had come up off of CDs he had purchased.

“So, you see, it was all these attempts, that I call phony. Then they had to figure out a way to extradite him. They needed a crime, that would get him five years in prison to meet the law, the New Zealand law, for extradition.

“So, they made up phony charges of racketeering, like he’s some big mobster connecting, you know, a big financial empire in these countries. I mean Apple does that. But Kim Dotcom is just a nice soft little sweet guy when you meet him, who tells the truth openly. You know when somebody’s being truthful when you’re with them, personally. And he does hide things. He doesn’t harry. He doesn’t have concocted lines to tell. He’s not a racketeer.

“They charge him with mail fraud because he said, ‘I deleted some files.’ And what he had done was delete the links to them. Like, if you have a computer and you take a file and you throw it in the trash. The file is still on your hard disk. It didn’t really get erased. The link is gone. You can’t find it anymore by that link. So, that’s a phony charge. He really had got rid of the one part, that you could have gotten rid of to make it look as though it was deleted.

“The phony charges just indicate that they’re gonna, they’re doing everything they can to make the public think they, the prosecutors, are in the right. You know? But you don’t do phony things when you’re in the right—you have an open and shut case—no. They’re having to go beyond the bounds of what’s right to try to convict him.”

Abby Martin (c. 5:06):  “What kind of precedent do you think this sets for, just, government overstepping?”

Steve Wozniak:  “I’ve read a lot about how they confiscated his data files, actually, took them to the United States and they didn’t have the right to do that.

“It’s, yeah, the trouble is we’ve developed what sort of rights you have to have against accusers, meaning the police and the prosecutors. They are the accusers. The presumption of innocence means the burden of proof is on the accuser. They have to prove that. You have the right to be notified of what you’re being charged of. You have the right to, you know, a lot of different rights, that make sure you’re being treated fairly. And prosecutors and governments have found every way they can to get around those rights. And that’s what bothers me. It’s that, if they want to convict you of something you didn’t do, they have an awful lot of techniques to do it. A lot of ways to do it.”

Abby Martin (c. 5:51):  “You founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect free speech. Should the principles of the First Amendment be protecting something like WikiLeaks?”

Steve Wozniak:  “Free speech is not absolute in my mind. It’s a very important right. It has to go through considerations of, ‘Did you violate it in ways, that might be, hurt somebody else?’ Some free speech could actually trigger harmful events. It could trigger even murders.

“So, does murdering an abortion doctor count as free speech? No. There are limits to free speech.

I don’t know in the case of WikiLeaks. Um, I don’t know where that’s going to fall out.”

Abby Martin:“So, you think there are limitations, in terms of, kind of, opening or protecting free speech online, the war on whistle-blowers?”

Steve Wozniak (c. 6:35): “Well, yeah, free speech online. I was brought up with the belief that the First Amendment was such a good thing. Every one of our Bill of Rights was so crucial to my heart, the way my dad taught me. But free speech meant you could say something bad about the president, even. You could say something bad about your government. You had that right. And we were taught you don’t have that right in Communist Russia. So, I believe in that right very strongly.

“As far as WikiLeaks, you know, I wish I knew more about the whole case. On the surface, it sounds to me like something, that’s good. The whistle-blower blew the truth. The people found out what, they, the people paid for. You know? And the government says, ‘No, no, no! The people should not know what they paid for.’”

Abby Martin (c. 7:15): “You’ve grown up in a generation where you’ve seen the internet proliferate into something so massive where political and social movements are birthed online now. What do you think about the evolution of the internet and how Apple has played a role in expanding that to people?

Steve Wozniak: “You know, when we started the company—I always go back to that point. We have a vision of computers being prolific and in everybody’s hands throughout society. Did we have the idea that it would lead to, you know, the incredible connection that the internet would come on board, that broadband would come on board for almost everyone who wants it and that that would lead to all these, basically, the way we live life and the way do things, everything political, everything social, the way we do things with other people is all done with your computer, on the internet, with your iPhone or mobile devices now. And it’s a totally different world than it was when, well, we had powerful computers, but they weren’t a part of your life as much as now. And I’m just as happy as everyone else to see it having turned out this way.”

Abby Martin (c. 8:17):  “And how do you see it going? Do you think it will still continue?  Or do you think we’ll see, kind of, a curb. I mean with the political and social movements now where everything is integrated, everything is being homogenised in the entire world and we are seeing the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, really, because of social interaction.”

Steve Wozniak:  “Yes. I think that a lot of social interaction will be curbed. I, I—let me take that back. I fear it. I fear it will be. The gatekeepers, those who can turn on and off switches, allow certain things, disallow other things, allow who gets to send me data about a new movie, rather than everyone having equal say so of reaching me. Yeah, I fear that very strongly. Especially, net neutrality, issues like that, internet freedom is being interfered with in major ways. And it shouldn’t.

“I think the internet should, from day one, a country of its own, that isn’t bound by any individual county’s laws. Maybe we could have had an internet government. But it didn’t happen, just like world government doesn’t happen. You know? Space doesn’t belong to anyone. The moon doesn’t belong to anyone. These are really beautiful principles in life. And then, as soon as a country figures out a way to get control of them, it disappears.

“I’m an optimist. I think we can move more and more towards net neutrality. The trouble is a lot of it has to be, um, enforced by the government and conservative types and libertarian types say, ‘Government shouldn’t have any say and control over that! That takes away our freedom!’ Wrong. It takes away the freedom of the companies, that are taking away the freedom from us.

“Every freedom we have in the United States—every one of them—was given to us by Congressional regulation. It’s called the Bill of Rights. That is what gives us our freedom. And, yet, it was from the government. It was government regulation.

“No, there are times when government regulation says, ‘You will not impede with the internet neutrality of the users.’

Abby Martin (c. 10:05): “What do you think about this whole hacktivist movement, that’s come out of, kind of, the war on whistle-blowers, Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, and you have the take-downs of government websites. And then you see legislation, like CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Security Protection Act, that, kind of, puts a stop to these things. Do you think that that’s, kind of, working as a guise and using the hacktivism and the hacktivists [as a pretext] for regulating the internet even more?”

Well, I really think that there are means for legitimate discourse. And trying to bring attention, um, with activist acts is wrong. On the other hand, I believe very strongly that legitimised marches and that sort of stuff, with the approval of the authorities, there’s room in our society to go out and have a microphone, to have a say and be heard by many others, especially, in this day of the internet.

“So, there are a lot of avenues. It’s just trying to, you know, grab some to get on the news, I don’t think that’s the way to, maybe it’s a start, it puts ideas into people’s heads, but I really, um, I, I don’t think that’s the right way to solve things.”

“I know you said before that no one really has the responsibility to speak out about anything. But why do you, Steve, speak out? And why do you think so many others don’t about these issues?”

“You know what? The whole world is very conflict-oriented. We want to take a side and fight for my side. My side might be my country. It might be my computer platform. It might be which browser I use. And I take my side and everybody else is bad. And I want to fight. And I only want to look at the world one way. And I’m the, I try to be so wide and open and just, you know, accept everything and judge it. That’s the logical scientific approach. Don’t take a side. Don’t be, like, for one religion against others, that sort of thing.”

Abby Martin: “Thank you so much for your time.”

Transcript by Felipe Messina for Media Roots and RT


One thought on “Apple Founder Steve Wozniak on Internet Democracy

  1. Great interview. I was feeling positive until I remembered that Apple gave Homeland Security full access to Apple customer accounts. So much for privacy and freedom.

    Doug Barber

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