At What Price Security? At What Price Privacy?

BelgiumBombing

As many U. S. citizens awoke this morning, they were greeted by the news of the most recent battle of the civilized world against those who would seek to change it through terrorist attacks. In Belgium, at least three bombs – two in an airport and another in the subway system in Brussels – have killed at least 30 people and injured 230 more (and the numbers are increasing). As always, the world is stunned at the ferocity and sophistication of the attacks as the process begins of investigating and capturing the people involved.

Much of what will occur in Belgium and on the European continent over the next few days will rest in the hands of security agencies and law enforcement investigators, probably with assistance from our Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations. These two departments – along with INTERPOL, MI6, FIS and several other powerful organizations, not to mention local law enforcement in each country – will put together the smallest threads of evidence, discover how and where the bombs were built and, eventually, find those responsible for the attacks (whether they are apprehended alive or dead doesn’t really matter, unless we’re truly interested in why they did what they did). But what happens for the United States, when we’ve built a society that treasures security as much as their citizens’ privacy?

This is a monumental question today – at what price do we want security? At what price do we sacrifice privacy? – with several cases that the federal government is currently pursuing in courts across the United States. Currently in Brooklyn, a federal judge has denied the U. S. Department of Justice’s request that Apple assist them in unlocking the iPhone of a drug suspect, citing that he lacked the authority to be able to order the computer giant to disable the security protocols that they established to ensure that their customers’ information was safe. Likewise, the popular messaging application WhatsApp has come under scrutiny from the feds because the encryption used in their program prevents anyone outside of the sender and receiver from seeing what has been passed. If pushed in a courtroom, would WhatsApp fall under wiretap orders – more than a decade old that were passed for landlines – or would it be protected under privacy laws?

ApplevsFBI

The biggest fight, however, has been the Department of Justice’s ongoing battle against Apple regarding the iPhone of one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks in San Bernardino, CA, late last year. Syed Farook, one of the terrorists killed after Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, ruthlessly murdered 14 people (most of whom were Farook’s co-workers) and injured another 22 people before they were gunned down by law enforcement as they attempted to escape the scene. As a part of the massive amount of evidence against them, Farook’s iPhone was allegedly found to possibly have information on it that could be beneficial to law enforcement (adding information as to potential accomplices or groups that might have helped the duo), but was inaccessible due to the security features that Apple employs on every iPhone that customers around the world purchase.

If there are too many attempts at an individual’s password for an iPhone, then the phone completely erases whatever information is on the device, locks up and becomes completely useless for whoever has the device, be it the owner, a thief or, in this case, the federal government. Naturally, investigators want to preserve any information that might be on the terrorist’s phone and, in the case of Farook’s phone, the potential destruction of whatever evidence might be contained on the device is something that is necessary to avoid. But should there be some way to get around this security feature?

The feds did kindly ask Apple to create a “backdoor” that would allow them to access Farook’s phone but, with their customers not only in the United States but worldwide in mind, Apple politely declined to create such a plan, program or application to assist the government. In Apple’s eyes, allowing such a move for the government would allow them to do that with virtually any iPhone they wanted access to (see the Brooklyn case above). For their part, the feds are saying no, we’ll only use it this one time, honest as they try to plead their case to the court of public opinion.

Currently the battle is raging in the real courts, with the Department of Justice so far winning the judicial argument as Apple maintains its privacy and security rights. The higher up the debate in the judicial branch has gone, however, it has become more difficult for the feds to be able to justify their breach of privacy and security, especially the “one time only” usage of such programs to penetrate Apple’s devices. Public opinion is split on the issue, with some attacking Apple for its stance while others are applauding Apple for standing up for the rights of citizens not only from the U. S. but also around the world. That battle has paused, at least for the moment, as the federal government yesterday asked to cancel a hearing in Los Angeles for reasons unknown.

The answers to the questions that surround this case – at what price security? at what price privacy? – are ones that, if you ask ten different U. S. citizens, you would probably end up with ten different answers. Since the attacks of 9/11, the U. S. citizen has consistently given up pieces of their privacy, their right to keep the government out of certain aspects of their lives, in exchange for the (false?) cocoon of “security” that is supposed to be provided by said government. And, for the most part, it has worked – there hasn’t been another 9/11 style attack in the nearly 15 years since that dark day.

EdwardSnowden

Just how far does the government need to go, though? Whether you like him or not, whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out the vast amounts of data that is scooped up by U. S. agencies in the name of “homeland security,” and in many cases it was questioned why the government needed such extreme measures. The result was a minimal slowdown on data taken but, in the end, vast amounts of data collection continue unabated.

The need to be “safe” is an emotion that human beings consistently want to feel but it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of the government consistently invading private aspects of your life. What books you order from Amazon, the websites you read online, even particular groups you interact with physically or online – all of these things are something that shouldn’t be known by the government. At the snap of a finger, however, a dossier can be created on probably every U. S. citizen that can trace their activities, a penetration into personal life that the government shouldn’t have.

I am fine with a “surgical” strike by law enforcement groups like the FBI. Go to the courts and obtain a subpoena, have a singular target for a specific time and ask whatever tech companies might have on the subject. A blanket gathering of information is not what was envisioned by the creators of the United States, in fact the federal government was meant to stay as far away from infringing on the individual as possible. Furthermore, to tell a company they HAVE to do something against their will – especially when that would violate the personal trust that people have put in a product that company produces – also violates the rights of the people against potential tyranny.

General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency, said it best. “Look, I used to run the NSA, OK?” Hayden told USA TODAY earlier this year. “Back doors are good. Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because I and a whole bunch of other talented security services around the world — even though that back door was not intended for me — that back door will make it easier for me to do what I want to do, which is to penetrate.”

The battle between the rights of the people and the protection of those people by the government will continue to rage onward. But the answer to the questions asked is that security shouldn’t be an extreme price, but privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of security. Once privacy is shattered, any semblance of security disappears also.

Welcome To the New Reality

I woke up this morning to the news from Suruc, Turkey that at least 27 people were killed in what has been called by the Turkish government a terrorist attack. For those of you without quick access to a map, Suruc is in the “No Man’s Land” between Turkey and Syria that is under siege from not only Kurdish factions with some help from the terrorist organization ISIS but also from Syrian rebels looking to fight those two factions off and take the area over for themselves. The death toll in this attack could rise as about 100 more people were injured in the bombing.

With this said, we in the United States are mourning the loss of five military members, four Marines and a seaman, killed in a senseless attack on a recruiting depot in Chattanooga, TN last week. The four Marines were killed immediately in a hail of automatic gunfire, the bullet holes pockmarking their office windows like a sinister form of Swiss cheese. The shooter, a Jordanian man in his mid-20s, was gunned down by authorities as he attempted to continue his shooting rampage at a military support depot located near the recruiting center; as of yet, it hasn’t been determined if it was an act of Islamic terrorism or another case of a mentally deranged man lashing out at a bastion of our country.

The deaths of these servicemen is extremely saddening, especially as some of these men had come through the Hell that war in the Middle East is and has been and lived to tell the tale. To then come home, back to the United States, and supposedly be “safe” in the fact that the battles were over, it is particularly cruel for them to have died in this fashion. Unfortunately, it has become the new reality in the United States: the potential for terrorism exists, even in our supposedly “safe” country, and not on an occasional basis but a weekly and, dare we say it, daily one.

We have joined the international world in that terrorism fraternity, with other countries holding membership for more than a millennia. We are no longer insulated against the senseless attacks that seem to plague the Middle East, Europe and other locales around the world. It used to be that, when there was a terrorist attack of some sort, we could mostly look across the Atlantic for the location and occasionally the Pacific. That was part of what made the United States – and, to some extent, the entirety of the Americas – feel more secure is that we were “removed” from the turmoil, strife and senseless bombings and killings that sometimes bubbles over in other areas of the world.

For almost 500 years (counting from Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World), the Americas were an isolated outpost from the Old World. That began to change with the advancements in warfare during World War II. Technically, the first “terrorist attack” against the United States was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. You could argue that there were other incidents, but this act of war in December 1941 was the first time that attacks from foreign sources were able to alight on U. S. soil.

Since that time, there have been fits and starts as to further acts of terrorism in the U. S. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was an attack by Islamic extremists that turned out to be a test drive for the 2001 tragedy that galvanized our nation. There’s been acts of “domestic terrorism” with Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the 1996 attacks by Eric Rudolph during the Olympics in Atlanta all the way up to Dylann Roof’s racial murdering of black churchgoers just last month in Charleston, SC. It’s gotten to the point where you have a sigh of relief when there isn’t a mass killing or bombing in the United States, a breath where you say “we made it through another day.”

The thing is we have to get used to such occurrences. In the Middle East – be it Iraq, Israel or some other country – they pause for a moment to reflect on the situation and then return to their daily existence. It isn’t that these people don’t have emotions regarding the situation, it is that they know the only way to counteract those terroristic intents is to demonstrate that it had no effect. It is remarkable the level of recovery that those people have reached in that a despicable mass killing may have been committed but, the next day, the surrounding area of that shooting has been cleaned and repaired and looks as if nothing has happened.

Europe does this too, as shown after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earlier this year, and Asia barely blinks if such an atrocity occurs. We here in the United States, however, normally end up clutching our collective chests and letting out a Nancy Kerrigan-like “WHHHHHY!” wail that can last for several months or even years until we start trying to figure out what laws to put into place “so that it never happens again.” The resulting discussion of any way to try to “fix things” uses its own terrorism in shutting down any solution or solutions.

If acts of terrorism on the shores of the U. S. is that prevalent, then many ask what should be done about it. The answer? Nothing. The countries of Europe and the Middle East have extremely Orwellian methods of counter-terrorism, including facial recognition software to visually identify militants, infiltration of subversive groups, restriction or observance in travel, arming of troops walking the streets of major cities, racial profiling and stifling of opposition speech (just to name a few). To implement these measures in the United States would violate pretty much every tenet that the country was established on and that is expected out of a free society. While we can weep and mourn, we shouldn’t exorcise what helped build the United States.

Although tragic, the shooting in Chattanooga is simply the latest example of the changing reality in the United States. While once secure from such situations, it is a new time (and not for the best) in our country that we have to be prepared for the potential for terrorist attacks, be they foreign or domestic. It doesn’t mean, however, we have to enact draconian measures in the untenable illusion of “safety” that violate the very essence of what the United States is. We just have to learn how to handle them better on a mental and emotional level than we have in the past.