January 10, 2016
I’m sure you remember the infamous fiasco between Apple and the FBI over Apple’s refusal to unlock the mobile phone of a suspected terrorist. I took a strong position that Apple was wrong in their reluctance to provide an unlock code for the iPhone. In a nutshell, it revolved around evidence.
Just recently, a similar situation occurred when an Amazon Echo device was believed to contain some incriminating evidence about a murder case that occurred in Arkansas. Basically, the authorities believe that there may be some audio on that particular device that might be considered evidence, or at least provide some idea of what transpired around the time of the murder.
Amazon, like Apple, is taking the stand that such data is private and is resisting the authorities’ demands to provide it. Amazon said in a statement that, as a matter of course, it “objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands.” By who’s definition? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is coming up with the same weak arguments Apple CEO Tim Cook came up with – none of which address the real issue – evidence.
Well, the authorities should be able to demand the right to garner evidence. Amazon is the one claiming that wanting the Echo is an “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate” demand. Not everyone necessarily agrees with that and I think that is a reach by Amazon, which has no real valid reason to deny the request. What great channel is this going to breach? Is everyone’s Echo now open for snooping? I think not!
This isn’t anything more than a simple recording device at that level. And even if it does contain confidential data, I really doubt that the authorities are going to sit around a put it up there on Facebook, or tweet it out to the world. And, I’m sure Amazon has the ability to retrieve only the critical audio to provide to the authorities.
Listening to some audio from an Echo device hardly constitutes “broad” demands. Unlike the iPhone, listening to a single Echo audio file isn’t going to compromise an entire family of other Echo devices, as Apple had claimed would happen in they gave the FBI the unlock code to the terrorist iPhone.
And, frankly, I doubt the authorities would care if some of the audio was about disciplining children or arguing over who should make dinner. Or even which nude beach they were planning to go to on vacation. They simply want to dig up evidence that will clarify the occurrences around the murder.
I’m sure if one of Bezos’ family members were murdered; he would be the first to give up his Echo if it would help solve the case.
In the days before digital data, the telephone companies would give up subpoenaed data. Video surveillance tapes were also used as evidence. Why can’t the same rules apply to digital data, or cell phone data today?
Frankly, there is little in my life that matters much to anyone. And I doubt that most of us do or have stuff that anyone else cares about. I’m not talking about hacking. Just day to day activities like those recorded by the Echo.
If the authorities want to look at my phone records, or my security videos, or my bank accounts, have at it. with the advancement in technology comes some compromises. The rules of privacy haven’t changed just because we now have the ability to access just about everything we do and say. Evidence should be available to authorities no matter what the state – especially in today’s world of terrorism and elevated crime states.
Protecting our privacy is just as important today as it was yesterday. So is the charge to use what is private in a responsible way that both protects what we want while not compromising the rights of the aggrieved.
Apple, Amazon, and whomever else, you are not in charge of my privacy – I am. And if I’m not around to make the call, I’m sure any of my charges would love to find out who off-ed me and give the authorities whatever it takes to find the perpetrator.