Protecting Privacy Versus Covering Criminals: Where is the Line Drawn?

by: The Knowledge Group

December 05, 2017


The FBI’s struggle to break into the cell phone of a mass shooter in a Texas church again raised the question: Where should personal data security stop and law enforcement’s access to information on personal devices begin?

Encryption doesn’t prevent surveillance, some experts say; and rather than blame encryption, we need to train law enforcement. When the FBI puts off asking Apple for help after seizing a suspect’s iPhone, it loses that time when unlocking options are still available. (Were they to leave unlocking options open indefinitely, tech companies would be increasing the devices’ vulnerability to thieves.)

Law enforcers need to know their various options, such as serving warrants for stored information. Apple will assist investigators in response to a warrant or subpoena.

But Apple has drawn one firm line. It won’t follow judicial orders to create back-door access software for use on a defendant’s phone.

Stronger Encryption Foils Feds

The FBI has hit walls trying to investigate smartphones used by California gunner Syed Rizwan and Florida shooter Omar Mateen—and argued that strong encryption makes warrantproof devices.

Apple strengthened its phone encryption offerings in September 2014. Before that, forensics teams could use a hardware port to obtain access to a phone’s data.

Now, Apple may be unable to decipher information in some of its own phones.

Hence the pressure on companies to develop back-door access software, to help how understand crimes of terror are planned and carried out.

Must Companies Stop Encryption From Aiding Fugitives From Justice?

Apple’s stance is on the correct side of the line, say ethicists who fear that any new back-door entry for one terrorist’s phone would hand a precedent to heavy-handed governments eager to seize their citizens’ private information.

Yet U.S. security leaders, including James Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, have approached Apple, Google, and Facebook reps, seeking some sort of compromise to allow surveillance of potential terror plans without treading on customer privacy. The tech giants have expressed a desire to help, but remain wary of the pressure to open conduits of information to government agencies. Their customers have reasonable expectations of privacy. And hackers would be first to exploit any weakening of data security.

The fine line dividing valid privacy rights from shields for criminal activity has continued to defy those intent on drawing it.Stay up to date with all of the latest technology and legal issues as well as earning CLE and CPE credits by attending our webcasts, feel free to view the library here.