Update privacy legislation to keep up with technology

Two recent cases involving technology giants Apple and Microsoft versus the government show that these technology corporations recognize the importance of privacy to their consumers.

In March, the FBI attempted to obtain a court order to compel Apple to access information from an encrypted iPhone belonging to a gunman in the December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, according to a March 28 New York Times article.

The FBI still broke into the phone without Apple’s assistance, but Apple highlighted issues of user privacy when it argued that creating a standing backdoor into the gunman’s phone would render all iPhones vulnerable to a wide range of intrusion.

More recently, Microsoft sued the federal government for preventing it from notifying users when the government is accessing their emails and other documents, according to an April 15 article from Reuters.com.

Microsoft’s lawsuit alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure as well as the company’s First Amendment right of free speech, according to the news story. 

Even if technology companies are taking legal action for self-serving reasons, such as protecting market share, users will still benefit if this leads to legislation that protects their privacy rights.

Such cases stress the need for new laws to address how much technology has developed and will continue to develop. 

The current law governing these transactions is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act from 1986, which “protects wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit and when they are stored on computers. The Act applies to email, telephone conversations and data stored electronically.” 

The law was created long before the invention of remote servers like “the cloud,” thus creating a loophole the federal government can exploit to legally access users’ data stored in places not specified by the law.

Microsoft also argued that the current law fails to recognize that information stored on emails and electronic documents is property worthy of protection.

Users may be uncomfortable knowing the government can access their information, but there are legitimate reasons the federal government may not want someone to know it is collecting information on them. For example, if someone is suspected of serious criminal or terrorist activity, the government would not want that person to be alerted and possibly try to cover up the crime.

If Microsoft is allowed to tell users when their data is being collected, it is unclear whether it would be required to tell all affected users or free to use its own discretion.  

Internet privacy may never be completely achieved, but as Microsoft said in its lawsuit, people do not give up their rights when they decide to store data on a remote server. 

While these questions are important, the overarching issue of using outdated legislation to take advantage of people’s use of remote servers must be addressed.