Civics & Lawfare: New Group Attacking iPhone Encryption Backed by U.S. Political Dark-Money Network

Sam Biddle:

The Heat Initiative, a nonprofit child safety advocacy group, was formed earlier this year to campaign against some of the strong privacy protections Apple provides customers. The group says these protections help enable child exploitation, objecting to the fact that pedophiles can encrypt their personal data just like everyone else.

When Apple launched its new iPhone this September, the Heat Initiative seized on the occasion, taking out a full-page New York Times ad, using digital billboard trucks, and even hiring a plane to fly over Apple headquarters with a banner message. The message on the banner appeared simple: “Dear Apple, Detect Child Sexual Abuse in iCloud” — Apple’s cloud storage system, which today employs a range of powerful encryption technologies aimed at preventing hackers, spies, and Tim Cook from knowing anything about your private files.

Something the Heat Initiative has not placed on giant airborne banners is who’s behind it: a controversial billionaire philanthropy network whose influence and tactics have drawn unfavorable comparisons to the right-wing Koch network. Though it does not publicize this fact, the Heat Initiative is a project of the Hopewell Fund, an organization that helps privately and often secretly direct the largesse — and political will — of billionaires. Hopewell is part of a giant, tightly connected web of largely anonymous, Democratic Party-aligned dark-money groups, in an ironic turn, campaigning to undermine the privacy of ordinary people.

“None of these groups are particularly open with me or other people who are tracking dark money about what it is they’re doing.”

For experts on transparency about money in politics, the Hopewell Fund’s place in the wider network of Democratic dark money raises questions that groups in the network are disinclined to answer.