The Hard Questions: Encryption and Ethics - April Code•It!

According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of Americans have smartphones (and 45% have tablet computers). The recent debate between the federal government and consumer technology companies over the use of public key encryption will affect anyone who uses a smartphone.

A Brief Technology Overview

Public key encryption is the method of cryptography that is used to encrypt the information by the sender. This information is then sent and a private or secret key on the receiver's end decrypts the information. So if you do not possess the private key, then you cannot see the message that has been sent.

The technology companies want to keep all private or secret keys off their servers and the only location they will reside will be the owner of the phone.  The federal government wants the technology companies to retain access to these private or secret keys.

Ethics and Encryption: Finding a Balance

The ability to access a private phone call is not the fundamental issue that hangs in the balance.  When a criminal investigation begins, if the municipality conducting the investigation cannot access the end user's device data, it becomes more difficult or nearly impossible to obtain information. Since large-scale crimes are very rarely a one-person operation and because of the IoT (Internet of Things), the government sees access to this data as essential to helping them provide security to the citizenry.

From the standpoint of the everyday citizen, it is a matter of balancing security and privacy. But where do we draw the line? 

Imagine a smart phone involved in a criminal investigation belonged to a deceased and the encrypted information could help solve the crime. What are the implications of a lack of access to data from the device? What are the ethical implications of violating the deceased person's privacy to obtain data that could solve the crime.

Code•It! Discussion

Join us for the April Code•It! in which we will discuss the current news story and the implications of the technology limitations legal ramifications of maintaining the status quo. 

The event is free to attend, but we request an RSVP.

Photo Credit (CC License): Yuri Samoilov