System Lock by Yuri Samiolov (CC BY 2.0)

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s leak about the NSA surveillance programs, tech companies have been quick to respond to consumer concerns about the privacy of their data. Google and Apple are starting to roll out new privacy protections that encrypt consumer information on the phone. In some cases, these encryptions are so well done that even those companies cannot access user data. Apple for example noted that they can no longer bypass customer passcodes.

Consumers could rest assured that even if the government asked Apple and Google to access user data, those companies couldn’t do it. This has government officials very concerned and they are looking to halt Apple and Google’s efforts to encrypt mobile data.

There are two competing issues here. On the one hand, private companies want to give consumers a product that they want. People want the security that comes with knowing that their data is really private and in their control. However, if the privacy protection is so good that government can’t access it (even if a court order), then we have created an environment that is a free-for-all for criminals. Countless crimes are solved after obtaining court orders with probable cause to gather evidence from suspects’ smartphones.

Should companies leave a window into our phones that can be accessed in the event of a criminal investigation? Does the government have a right to intervene in these kinds of product design decisions? What do you think?

 

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