On May 20th, less than a month ago (from this writing), Tim Cook appeared before the US Senate to explain how Apple manages its cash to minimize its tax obligations.
The basics of Apple’s approach are pretty simple: When Apple earns money overseas, that profit accrues to an Irish company which, through careful structuring, does not need to report or pay taxes on the profit to Ireland, the United States, or any one else. This has allowed them to keep around $74 billion tax free between 2009 and 2012.
In other words, by employing clever lawyers Apple has been able to keep monumental amounts of its cash free from the jurisdiction of the US government. Senators were left to complain (mildly) about it being unfair but were unable to do anything about it.
If, as Apple’s customers, our data were treated in the same way as that cash — kept securely by an Irish corporation in Ireland — then our private information would not be subject to the hoovering of data by the NSA that has become a recent scandal. Data held in Ireland by Irish shell corporations would be subject only to Irish data privacy laws, just like cash held in Ireland by Irish shell corporations is subject only to Irish tax laws.
So here’s the irony: if the tech giants felt the same obligation to protect every bit of our data that they do to protect every penny of their cash, there’d be no NSA scandal.