The Threat of Data Turnover to Personal Security and Privacy

Taigan B.

As technology rapidly changes and improves over time, concerns of privacy and security arise when unlawful actions occur and police or the government obtain search warrants to attempt to receive access to available information found on one’s personal device. Established in Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment generally requires a warrant to search the digital data contained on a cell phone (“A Second Bite at the Apple”). 

But should search warrants grant access to encrypted data and should law enforcement be allowed access at all?

In the case of Apple vs the FBI, the FBI asked Apple unlock an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, who was responsible for the shootings in San Bernardino December 2014. Apple’s declination was explained by CEO Tim Cook, who says the unlock would require creating new code that would be a “master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks” (“Apple vs FBI: All you need to know”).

I believe that creating such a “master key” could lead to problems that pose a significant threat to personal privacy and security. Feeling secure is essential to a person’s comfort - when you begin to feel like things you do are not only your things, but instead are public things, you begin to distrust your government - and, next, the phone creator. If Apple had willingly written software for the FBI, there would be numerous implications: what is to say that another country could not ask for the same code, on the basis of their national security? Is Apple entitled to pick and choose who they grant access to?

The argument against accessing private information comes not just from unlocking iPhones. In the Department of Justice’s case, it occurs when they desire IP addresses of protestors. Here, does the broad request impact the service provider’s obligation to fork over the data? DreamHost refused the request, claiming the warrant was “a highly untargeted demand” (“Web firm fights DoJ on Trump protestors”). In Apple’s case, the data requested was for one person (potentially millions), and here, there are 1.3 million people’s IP addresses at stake. Does the amount of people involved have anything to do with the potential security threat?

In my opinion, whether it is one person or instead millions of people, it is difficult to tell where a person’s individual security and privacy exceeds a country’s. Protecting privacy is important; so important it is protected by the Fourth Amendment. However, with rapidly increasing technology and interconnectivity, the lines blur.

When your phone is able to track all your data - what you look at, where you go - is it for your security? Is that innately an infringement on one’s privacy? The collection of data is one thing - is using it another? When considering whether it is an infringement upon someone’s privacy, I think it is important to consider the threat and its impact on those involved. If there is a substantial threat to security, then granting access to encrypted information could be justifiable.