Can We Stop Mass Spying?

by Adam Gill

In the April 28 edition of top VPN IPVanish’s Secure Sessions, CTO Josh Gagliardi spoke with Real Clear Radio Hour host and Forbes and Huffington Post contributor Bill Frezza. They talked about encryption and technology legislation for mass government surveillance efforts.

Mass Spying is a Sweet Deal

Bill Frezza thinks that although the US government has backed off Apple in the San Bernardino iPhone case, they are far from done. We agree that there are certainly several other ways that the government can pressure companies like Apple away from the public eye. Law enforcement has gotten very comfortable with their jobs since the Internet opened up a way for them to gather a lot of intelligence without them having to spend a lot of money or time or effort. Mass surveillance makes their jobs easy and saves the government big bucks that they could then pour into other activities like weapons development.

Frezza goes on to talk about how the Fourth Amendment was penned to protect people from having their homes and persons violated by random searches. But the forefathers could not have imagined spies who could peek into our personal lives from the comfort of their office recliners. Americans depend on these basic rights today, but the letter of the law is being manipulated to serve the interests of mass surveillance programs. We should really be respecting the spirit of the law here, and that includes the references to safes and papers stored within them. We can equate encryption in the digital sphere to locks on physical strong boxes, but there are endless debates on how the specific rules governing papers and safes apply to digital data and encryption. And then there’s the government endlessly pushing for the courts to force everyone to give them copies of their keys when there is no way that they should be allowed to do that.

There is also confusion with other laws concerning data privacy that were passed before the digital era. Different technologies govern data storage and data transmittal, and so there are different dangers. This would be like how people are protected differently at home versus in shops versus on the train because the types of attacks that can be used against them are different in these two situations. People also have different concerns about corporate data gathering versus government spying. We are normally more concerned about the latter than the former because government profiling in the age of terrorism is much more worrisome than allowing a company to see what kinds of household products we use. We also accept corporate data mining more readily because they do it in exchange for free services like Internet searches or email and what not. The government, on the other hand, just pushes its way in and demands that they be allowed to watch and listen to everything that we do.

Using the FBI versus Apple iPhone case, Frezza illustrates the issue of indentured servitude under the Thirteenth Amendment that was surprisingly, in his opinion, not brought up early on during the debates. The government was demanding at some point that Apple create a special software program that would allow the FBI to gain access to encrypted data on the San Bernardino device. If Apple had given in – or does so in future cases under threat of antitrust or tax litigation or any other type of pressure – then their coders might be facing their own kind of pressure. If Apple employees refuse to create that software, for instance, they might face threats like loss of employment or other disadvantages at work. Companies like Apple may not force their employees to do things like this, but if the government can force the company’s hand then they can force employees’ hands, too. This type of request is far beyond what the government should be able to demand in terms of help.

The debates about encryption and access and freedoms and rights go on and on because these issues are so confusing. The arguments are dealt with from a perspective of who can make the better case, and this leaves the smarter or more experienced litigator in the best position rather than the guy who is on the side of right. Both sides must tell a good story also because they have to gain public support, which is important in any democratic proceeding. The government waits for opportunities to present bad guys who are getting away because of privacy protections like encryption, and companies like Apple have to remind everyone of all the other users who are not bad guys and who will get run over in the process.

In the particular case of the San Bernardino iPhone, the FBI obviously just wanted to make a point to get them to the next level in court. The Bureau never needed Apple’s help and probably knew that they would not really get any relevant data from the iPhone anyway (which did not even belong to the terror suspect but to his boss). It is all about getting to that level where they can be granted the power by a higher court to continue and expand the mass surveillance programs that have been exposed and decried. In addition, no government agency is willing to let on that they have ways of cracking technologies that people rely on daily for privacy and security. The data that they could get from a single phone is far too little for them to risk losing access when the company changes the system to make it more secure.

Convenience Versus Security

The government has long tried to persuade the people that we have to give up some rights to get protection. There are a lot of things that people give up already to get better security, but rights should never be among these things.

Convenience, for instance, is an understandable cost of securing data. We go through bag checks at malls and metal detectors at schools and x-rays at airports; all very inconvenient but necessary to ensure that dangerous materials are not brought in that could hurt us. The same is true online where we have to go through different types of security checks from passwords to verifications before we can access accounts or purchase items on credit or make bank transfers. This is like sharing data with companies where we get a certain benefit for going through these annoying processes.

The difference with the government asking us to give up our privacy is that they have never been able to prove that they can, in fact, save us from terrorists and child pornographers and drug dealers. This makes us not want to comply with their demands because there is no obvious benefit. We want security and we want privacy and we want to get rid of terrorists and we want to put child pornographers away and we want to get drug dealers off the streets. But we can get the first two for a good deal and with a guarantee, but not the latter three. We certainly should, though.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: