Walking the Tightrope Between Privacy & Security

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in France, a topic has been brought up that is very close to our hearts. As you can guess,  we are talking about the balance between privacy and security. This topic has spurred many debates recently, on both sides. Much like what happened after the US terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, governments are taking the opportunity to say the citizens need more surveillance.

Data Protection

When Edward Snowden exposed the the secret surveillance program in 2013, there was a public outcry. Not surprisingly, American citizens were upset about the massive amounts of data being collected on them in the name of national security. The theory is, the good of the society outweighs the rights of the individual. If you are unaware of how the US constitution is written, it prohibits illegal search and seizure. In other words, if they are to be monitored, warrants are supposed to be issued.

In countries that are considered to be part of the western world, one of the items that has been revisited is encryption. The security experts are saying that end to end encryption is a problem, and there should be a back door.  They point to companies like Silent Circle that seem to be creating a problem for law enforcement. Of course with that type of encryption, no one has keys to unlock those communications except for the intended recipient. The thought is terrorists will not be able to be prevented from causing harm. Already, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, wanted to ban encrypted messaging apps for phones.

Interestingly, with all of the demonization of encryption after Paris, it has been discovered that the terrorists in France were also using unencrypted SMS texts as well as the encrypted Telegram. It is not that law enforcement could not see any of the information, or that all of the information was encrypted, it was a matter of the French DGSI (their intelligence agency) not putting the information together.

Does the good of society dictate that we give up our individual privacy? Some people think so. As an extreme case, US presidential candidate Donald Trump recently stated “I think a lot of people would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.” The balance point comes to where the dividng line is, and what privacy would we be giving up? As we know from other government experiences in all countries, if there is an opening, there are government agencies that will take advantage of the situation. Perhaps American citizens should put it to a vote. Is their national security worth a measure of privacy violation? That should be for them to decide.