Who’s Watching You?

In the technologically advanced world we live in today, issues that seemed black and white in the past are now controversial issues of society. The line to be drawn between the constitutional right to privacy granted to citizens, and the duty the government has in using what means are available to protect the citizens. This issue is most easily observable when it comes to mobile devices such as cell phones. “only the user can make it readable, by tapping in a passcode or through fingerprint identification or some other means. That’s great for keeping personal information safe, say if our phone is lost or stolen. But it can also be a boon to criminals and terrorists. And so we have entered the latest round in a long-running spat about how best to balance personal privacy and public security” (Baraniuk, 2017). This excerpt from an article titled Phoney War analyzing the line the government must follow as it attempts to fulfill its duty to protect the people. On one hand, the group of people endorsing the governments side in that the government should be able to have complete access to belongings such as mobile devices, if the ends are to save the majority of lives. Sacrificing some rights of the few to benefit the greater good, to this group. The other side to this argument is the protest that the rights to privacy of the individual take precedence, and issues such as the digital lives of citizens should not be infringed upon based solely off the judgement of the government. The Government cannot take jurisdiction to search the property of citizens without warrants and due cause, solely for the purpose of mass data collection and analytics according to protestors against data collection. The problem with mass data collection without limits or processes in place to protect citizens’ rights, is with large enough scale of cases abuses of power will be observed. Without protection, the ability to have that much private citizens is too much power for any one organization. The most recent case that drew large amounts of media attention was the iPhone of the San Bernadino attacker Rizwan Farook. The iPhone was recovered by law enforcement, but they were unable to retrieve data to aid in the case due to the encryption present on the device. The government sought out help from Apple to get into the phone, but Apple was unwilling to offer keys to the phone in an effort to protect the privacy of the general public. In the end, the FBI had to resort to a third party to attempt to break into the phone. “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone,” the filing reads, “and therefore no longer requires assistance from Apple.” (Brandom, 2016). The FBI came to the conclusion that either in court it would be too difficult to force Apple to comply, or they simply found it a better use of resources to hire outside help. Following the attention Edward Snowden brought to federal data collection, companies that have been found to comply with government private data inquiries have largely drawn fire and criticism from their customers. The line between protecting the public and protecting privacy of individuals is an issue that will likely be difficult to navigate and will only become clearer as additional court cases set precedence in the future.

Baraniuk, C. (2017). Phoney war. New Scientist, 233(3110), 34–38.

Brandom, R. (2016, March 28). Apple’s San Bernardino fight is officially over as government confirms working attack. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/28/11317396/apple-fbi-encryption-vacate-iphone-order-san-bernardino

Featured image in public domain.

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