Did you spend any time at the Apple Store this holiday season? It was this week in 2007 that Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s first iPhone, what he called “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communications device.” A decade later, Apple CEO Tim Cook reflected on the company’s most important product, stating that “today more than ever it is redefining the way we communicate, entertain, work and live.” Indeed, the iPhone changed what we expected our phones to do. It changed the way we eat, sleep, date, and play. It changed political protest, reporting on political protest, and political communication. From its minority share of the global smartphone market, the iPhone revolutionized the entire industry.
It has also handed a huge gift to hostage takers all over the world. Today’s smartphone, with its video camera and internet connection capabilities, is a political kidnapper’s perfect accomplice. It has enabled a subtle but seismic shift in global kidnapping, reshaping the costs of taking a person, with dramatic implications for victim safety, release negotiations, and terrorist recruitment. To understand the monumental change that technology has wrought on hostage-taking strategy, let’s first examine two other advances that changed global kidnapping: commercial airlines and the nightly news.