The current iPhone controversy regarding whether Apple should be required to unencrypt the phone of the California terrorist shooters to enable the identification of potential future terrorists motivated this post. This information could potentially save an unknown number of lives. The fear is that personal privacy could be compromised.
I find irony in the way the public regards personal privacy. On networks such as Facebook detailed personal information is published. I frequently wonder why people regarded this information of being of any interest to other people. We frequently read how this information is used against people to preclude employment or to embarrass them. Yet when the government wants access to information for purposes of national security and to obtain information that could save lives, there is a large degree of push back.
I perceive some personal conceit in this concern. Why do people think the government would have any interest in them. Personally, I would be flattered to learn that I was under surveillance and to think that the government regarded me as that important. And I know that they will find nothing to make me personally liable.
But apparently people fear that they have data that the government can use against them. They perceive the government as evil and they want laws to protect themselves against this evil government. But it would be the government that enforces these laws. So why regard this evil government as being trustworthy. I do not think it would be difficult to find laws in totalitarian states that protect their citizens, but which are never enforced.
And why be concerned only about governments? I believe that business has more data and will always have more data on me than the government. There are also individuals who can access information and demand payment or threaten to release information.
Focusing on collection will not work. Laws should be passed on how this information is used. Should information be used to embarrass or cause financial loss, the laws should carry severe penalties against persons or organizations, including government. Legitimate uses such as prosecuting criminals or preventing terrorist acts would be exempted. Today criminals are released because of the way information was collected. This is wrong and is due to the locus of the laws. Again, laws should be focused on how information is used rather than how information is collected.
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