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2014-02-12

Drone on Your iPhone: Apple Drops Objections to App Tracking U.S. Strikes Overseas

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Guests

Madiha Tahir, freelance journalist and director of the documentary Wounds of Waziristan. Her work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Vice, the BBC, PRI’s The World, Global Post and other outlets. She is co-editor of the anthology Dispatches from Pakistan.

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A new iPhone app has been released that tracks every reported U.S. drone strike overseas. Over the course of two years, Apple rejected different versions no less than five times. Now, for the first time, the app is finally available under the name of Metadata+, created by New York University graduate student Josh Begley. Madiha Tahir, a filmmaker whose documentary "Wounds of Waziristan" looks at the drone war, says Apple stalled the app’s approval for political reasons before Begley found a workaround.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking of cellphone data, I want to turn to this new iPhone app that tracks every reported U.S. drone strike over the course of two years. Apple rejected different versions of the app no less than five times. Now, for the first time, the app is finally available, and it’s called Metadata+, created by Josh Begley. In his graduate thesis presentation at New York University, Begley explained why he created the app in the first place.

JOSH BEGLEY: The first thing that I did was make an iPhone app. You know, it was called Drones+. And the idea for it was really simple: It would send you a push notification or just ping your phone every time there was a U.S. drone strike. Right? So, even if we have access to the data about drone strikes, do we really want to be interrupted by it, right? Do we really want to be as connected to our foreign policy as we are to our smartphones? Our phones, which are these increasingly intimate devices, right, the places that we share pictures of our loved ones and communicate with our friends, the things that we pull out of our pocket when we’re lost, which automagically put us at the center of the map and tell us where we’re going—do we really want these things to also be the site of how we experience remote war? Right? In an age when it’s possible to sit in an air-conditioned room in New Mexico and control an airplane as it hovers over a village in what used to be India, is there a way to close that feedback loop a little bit and actually feel something, even if it’s just my pocket vibrating when the missile hits the ceiling? Luckily, Apple helped answer the question for me. They loved the app, right? They loved it so much that they rejected it three times just to make sure more people would hear about it. Right? They said that it was excessively crude or objectionable content.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Josh Begley talking about Metadata+. He referred to it as Drones+, but when it was sent to Apple as Drones+, it was rejected. Madiha Tahir, the significance of this? I mean, people who just listened, their jaws must drop.

MADIHA TAHIR: Well, the—as you heard, the exceptionally crude or objectionable material in that app was simply the database of the drone attacks that the U.S. is conducting in various countries. So, it was rejected five times on that basis. The last time that Josh actually submitted the app, Metadata+, he did it as an empty app, and then it was accepted. And after it was accepted, he filled it with the data. So, clearly, the reason for the prior rejections was political. It had nothing to do with technical reasons or standard review, you know, guidelines.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Madiha Tahir, very quickly, before we conclude, could you say a little about the area where the vast majority of these U.S. drone strikes occur in Waziristan? You were nearby, in Bannu. Waziristan and the tribal areas, in general, are said to be under virtual military occupation by the Pakistani military?

MADIHA TAHIR: Yes, they are. North Waziristan, where the majority of the attacks happen, is—you know, you can’t go there independently. You can only go there with the military, and I have not done that, because I don’t think it would be very useful to do that, to go and walk in with the military. The military has used collective punishment in North Waziristan, but in the tribal areas, more generally. And, you know, there’s been intense repression.

So, very recently, actually, in December, there was a military operation in North Waziristan carried out by the Pakistani military in which scores of civilians were killed—indiscriminate, you know, open fire. Before that, earlier in the year, some Pakistani soldiers were attacked, and they instituted a 24-hour curfew that went on for months. Before that, after the—Osama bin Laden was killed and polio was used as a ruse to kill him, polio vaccinations, the militants in North Waziristan put a ban on any kind of polio vaccinations happening, and the response by the Pakistani state, by the political agent in that area, was to say to the population, "Look, if you actually comply with the militants’ ban, you cannot get any government papers—no deeds, no national ID cards, things like that."

So, basically, the population in North Waziristan is essentially caught between the Pakistani state, the military and these militants. And the Pakistani state does not treat these people as full-fledged Pakistani citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, a three-year-old girl, for the first time since 2001, has polio in Kabul, Afghanistan.

MADIHA TAHIR: Yes, the—yes, the numbers are actually going up. You know, yeah, it’s tragic.

AMY GOODMAN: Madiha Tahir, I want to thank you for being with us, freelance journalist, director of this remarkable documentary, Wounds of Waziristan. Her work has appeared in many different publications. And if you want to watch the documentary, Democracy Now! broadcast it. You can go to democracynow.org, and we will link to her documentary. We will continue to follow the case of Karim Khan, who’s featured in the documentary, who disappeared last week. At least 20 men in uniform and not uniform came to his house and took him away just before he was going to Europe to testify about the CIA drone wars. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.

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