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Is There an Urgent Need To Strike the Right Balance Between Protecting Public Private Data and Ensuring their Safety?

Recently, a senior FBI agent has voiced his frustration with tech giants such as Facebook and Apple regarding their security practices which have made it harder for the law enforcement agencies to carry out detailed investigations. Encryption has been at the forefront of the issue since it prevents authorities from accessing devices of the suspected criminals.

Aristedes Mahairas, a special agent in charge of the New York FBI’s Special Operations/Cyber Division, has stated that each encrypted phone could hold crucial evidence. He further noted that at least one victim had been denied justice as a consequence of such obstacles.

Mahairas further added that dealing with encryption is frustrating since the authorities can’t gain access to a phone or a laptop despite a lawful court order.

Court often permits the FBI to access the suspected criminal’s laptops or smartphones; however, cracking the encryption cipher could be flat-out impossible. That is perhaps why the FBI has gone to great lengths to obtain court orders that would compel tech tycoons such as Apple and Facebook to either unlock devices in question or to develop a piece of software that would grant access to them. Up until now, all such endeavors were unsuccessful.

Mahairas is of the view that there should be a balance between public security and police work. Also, various entities like tech companies, policymakers and service providers should come together to find common ground that benefits all parties.

Christopher A. Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that the bureau was unable to extract data from 7,000 devices between 2016 and 2017, which is disappointing to put it lightly.

In 2016, the FBI’s attempt to extract information related to the San Bernardino shooter from his iPhone was termed Chilling by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple’s CEO has described the bureau’s request as asking the company to hack their users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect their customers.

It is not just about Apple. Even Facebook has denied access to information on WhatsApp and other services. The Social Network believes that creating a backdoor for law enforcement agencies is too risky as it will inevitably expose it to bad actors.

However, Mahairas said that they are not looking for a backdoor but want access to the device that is in line with the court orders.

As of now, the whole debate is taking place between the FBI and tech tycoons. The FBI rises a crucial question: should tech companies comply with the law enforcement’s requests to bypass their security measures.

Sadly, that’s not the first time that laws have had a negative impact on people’s security and privacy. As you may have heard the Internet in China is not that we’re used to, and that’s the consequence of a carefully crafted policy, which was designed to monitor all online content coming in and out of the country. As of April 1, 2018, China began blocking VPN services unauthorized by the government. While most see the ban as a way to enhance the so-called great firewall of China, the local authorities downplay their move by stating that anyone can still use a VPN, yet it must be a state-approved one.

While obstructions in regards to using a VPN are hideous, China goes to great lengths to shape policy that allows the authorities to control the way its citizen consume culturally-significant content on many levels.

It may come as a surprise, but hip-hop culture (yes the whole phenomenon) has been banned as well. As a result of this, GAI, a prominent rapper was dropped from a hit competition show, Singer. On top of that, even the clips of GAI were removed from the China HunanTV Youtube channel.

Among the same lines, Wang Ha, another prominent hip-hop figure in China, was asked to make a public apology after one of his songs ‘Christmas Eve’ was criticised by the authorities as insulting women and promoting drug culture.

To cap it all off, China is working on a surveillance system which is set to go live by 2020. The system’s primary function is to rate 1.4 billion Chinese citizens on the basis of their behavior. As of now, it seems that the authorities plan on using AI, facial recognition, and other smart-technology to achieve their goals. The whole prospect is somewhat frightening as

scores could affect someone’s ability to buy property, book a flight, or even gain access to high-speed Internet.

Bottom Line

Time and again, we’ve seen that laws function on a slippery slope; if not carefully crafted, policies might cause harm to the people that it should serve. A delicate balance between public security and law enforcement agencies is a must, yet it’s a work in progress, to put it mildly.

there is an urgent need to protect data privacy and restrict the amount of personal, social media and biometric data that companies collect, while also providing the right access to the security agencies.

The bottom line is that big data is here to stay. However, the way we take care of it legally and privately remains a controversy. While federal policy might seem like a quick fix, we might need to step back and have a public discussion so that the law serves everyone equally.

What are your views on this? Do let us know in the comments below.


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