Personal Privacy vs. Public Safety
It has been a long-standing dispute on whether world governments should get access to personal data. In 2015, a case of gun violence in America killed at least fourteen people and caused more than seventeen injuries, which is the worst mass shooting in the past three years. In order to further track this case, the FBI asked Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one suspect, while the company refused to cooperate. It has ignited a broader discussion about individual privacy and the public good, and about 46% of Americans support Apple, while 35% disagree.
It is not the last time that we can see a conflict between tech giants and governments. The “Five Eyes” governments have ever demanded that tech providers grant them backdoor access to their users’ encrypted data “or face measures to force companies to comply,” according to the report of TechCrunch. Technology companies build trust with users by means of encryption, while it seems to thwart the trust between government and citizens.
Security is prior to privacy.
“We live in an extremely dangerous world.”, Warren Buffett says, “Something is gonna happen, and the security surpasses our privacy.” He agrees with Apple’s aim of privacy keeping, but he also reckons that Apple should not refuse to give a hand for crime control. The USA, as we know, is a country that can barely count the number of murders, let alone other crimes. It seems that citizen protection is more important than personal privacy currently in the US. The supporters of this opinion argue that tech companies, who have directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly held tons of users’ data due to their monopoly of the internet and used for profit or others (even some are presented in their so-called outward user-contracts that you have to agree, or you cannot use their products) unbeknownst to us, sprawl for a long time without regulation. And the government, the representative and defender of citizens, must deserve more trust rather than commercial corporates. By analogy to the physical world where the police have a warrant can get in a criminal’s house and search for evidence, it makes no difference. With the opening of private data, not only for crime control but the government will also have a better ability to make a public decision. And it will also improve innovation for start-ups using sharing data in view of its non-rival feature.
Despite their consent to the government’s intervention in personal data if necessary, some also worried about inadvertent leakiness and misusing. It follows that they incline to look for a third way instead of the binary approach to deal with this dilemma. Kartik Agarwal, a co-founder of Technosip, suggests that the government should have access to anonymous data and retrieve personal information when any set of data raises an alert. Correspondently, we should have a public and independent agency who can assess whether the requirements of authorities are reasonable and necessary. All in all, a formal policy and transparency are what they want.
Champions of personal data.
Many opponents think it not a question of “if” we should hand over our data. The access is already rampant. The government is proven to misuse our data for some illegitimate purposes, singling out protestors, surveilling the opposition, and tracking citizens’ locations or whatever. Therefore, it is naive to think that the authorities will show exactly how data is being used, let alone their promise that only use data by themselves but not malicious parties. The government, moreover, has failed to show any evidence that criminals or terrorists use encryption more than others. So, a few criminal cases should not be an excuse that people ask the masses to give up privacy.
On the technical aspect, there are more criticisms. It is more urgent to protect users’ sensitive data on the internet, such as accounts of social apps and online banks, etc. Large-scale and driftless activities of hacking and cyber attacking are getting more common. One of the most effective ways is encryption. However, secure algorithms of encryption usually are irreversible, which means that decoding is impossible or nearly unreachable till quantum computers come out, because of extensive computing requirements. Hence, unless we lower the security level, backdoors were impossible. Even if a third-party holding onto the encryption keys is no different. “There is no real way to devise an access mechanism to a system that would not be susceptible to being attacked by an unauthorized party.” says the Chief Security Officer Vijay Bolina at Google DeepMind.
No end to this dispute.
Unfortunately, I would like to say sorry if you want to hear a proper solution. We will never have a correct answer to the question that who is right. It is a complicated and confusing situation involving the interests of tech giants, governments, and citizens from diverse groups. Companies need to build their credits so that they actively help users encrypt their data, though they also pursue monopoly and profit, which gives them a willingness to abuse personal data. Most world governments dedicate to protect their nationals from criminals and terrorists, while they also want to go further. And distinct groups have their own demands, intentional or not, and malicious or not. All we only could do is find a balance among these interests. Most of the time, the public good is more important in a major public emergency. However, privacy also matters. What is certain in uncertainties is that the dispute will never have an end.
1. Council, Editors, Forbes Technology, ‘Council Post: Should World Governments Get Access To Encrypted Data? 11 Tech Experts Weigh In’, Forbes
2. ‘“Five Eyes” Governments Call on Tech Giants to Build Encryption Backdoors — or Else’, TechCrunch
3. ‘Should Tech Giants Slam the Encryption Door on the Government?’, TechCrunch
4. ‘The Fight for Personal Data’, ISchool | Syracuse University, 2019
5. ‘Why Companies Should Share Their Data with Government | Apolitical’, 2019