This is an age where we depend on tech heavily. Concerns over the Obama administration's alleged abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to snoop on American citizens at home has placed a focus on the role played by tech companies in civil liberties. Media reports are rife with allegations that the National Security Agency continues to monitor telepone conversations and email exchanges, not only outside of the United States but domestically as well.
History shows that technology can be used for nefarious purposes, ranging from the mechanization of warfare to the systematization of genocide. Here are few examples:
1. IBM and the Holocaust
As much as this may be hard to imagine, research has shown how IBM helped the Nazis perpetrate a holocaust. IBM helped create the most rationalized and methodically perfected means of genocide that has been recorded in human history. Edwin Black, a best-selling author and investigative journalist, explains in his book "IBM and the Holocaust" how IBM services were suited for the purposes of the Third Reich. This helped Germany's National Socialist government under Adolf Hitler perfect the art and science of killing through systematization, using technology developed in the United States. IBM used its Hollerith tabulation machine -- a precursor to the modern computer -- to tabulate and alphabetize German census data in order for the Nazis to more easily locate its victims. During the Holocaust, IBM also aided in keeping the trains on time that took victims to the death camps, calculated the number of victims, and aided the war effort against the Allies. Thus one of the most powerful tech companies was used by the Nazis to facilitate its program of racist and eugenic genocide, directed ultimately from IBM's offices in New York City.
2. RIM and Saudi Arabian censorship
Rim is the company that produces BlackBerry phones and products. When RIM was in danger of being removed from the Saudi market, which provided about a third of their yearly sales, it bowed to Saudi pressure. Despite the company's qualms over ethics, RIM decided to collaborate with the Saudi government to locate three servers within Saudi territory and controlled by the Saudi security apparatus. RIM thus allowed the Saudi government access to all BlackBerry devices and messages. Saudi government security could determine the origin of messages on BlackBerrys and to whom the messages were sent. The arrangement provided yet another means for the Saudi government to control its people and impose its strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam, which sentences adulterers and traitors to beheadings and thieves to the severing of a hand.
3. Bahrain and Nokia Siemens
The government of Bahrain used equipment sold by Nokia Siemens to violate the rights of its people. The government used secret police to intimidate and torture its people with information that has been intercepted over the country's cellphone network. By reading citizens' texts and listening in on their calls, the Bahraini government used the eavesdropping to enhance an authoritarian regime that continues today. The tech companies’ software has been incorporated into Bahrain’s communication infrastructure that means everything said and written is in full view of the government. Nokia is based in Finland, while Siemens is one of Germany's top tech firms.
4. Yahoo and China
In 2002, the Chinese government arrested an engineer for writing a pro-democracy article, and arrested a journalist in 2004 for forwarding an email to an overseas website. These are but two examples of Yahoo's collaboration with the Chinese government. Yahoo is the second most popular email service in the world, while China is one of its biggest markets. Wang Xiaoning served 10 years in prison after being convicted of state subversion on evidence provided by Yahoo. The former engineer had distributed pro-democracy writings using e-mail and Yahoo forums, often anonymously. He was arrested in 2002 and imprisoned until 2012 at the age of 62.