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Defining the frontier between privacy and law enforcement

We all want our data to be protected and our privacy rights protected. We all want criminal activity to be capable of detection. How do we manage the boundary between these competing desires for society? As the NY Times comments below, there are no easy answers.

We are at the frontier now, as a society, and although Big Tech firms are under the spotlight as they are taking different positions along that frontier, it is a question we must address, along with our lawmakers, rather than delegate to the industry alone. In the tech sector, regulation has been resisted in many ways, but regulation has the capacity to be the industry's friend - creating a level playing field and allowing lawmakers to take ownership of moral decisions, rather than the private sector.

Apple unveiled a plan two weeks ago founded in good intentions: Root out images of child sexual abuse from iPhones. But as is often the case when changes are made to digital privacy and security, technology experts quickly identified the downside: Apple’s approach to scanning people’s private photos could give law enforcement authorities and governments a new way to surveil citizens and persecute dissidents. Once one chip in privacy armor is identified, anyone can attack it, they argued. The conflicting concerns laid bare an intractable issue that the tech industry seems no closer to solving today than when Apple first fought with the F.B.I. over a dead terrorist’s iPhone five years ago. The technology that protects the ordinary person’s privacy can also hamstring criminal investigations. But the alternative, according to privacy groups and many security experts, would be worse.


data privacy