Efforts to Address Cybercrime Put Privacy at Risk

New laws could threaten the privacy of internet users, eventually forcing users to accept public life online or opt out completely.


Warrantless wiretapping, and the FBI National Security Letters have been very controversial piece of law enforcement’s apparatus in the last few years. Wiretapping has been used by the FBI to access cell phone and laptop microphones in recent years. Now that cybercrime is on the rise, the FBI says it has the power to intercept the calls and texts of anyone, as long as the target is in public at the time.

“The FBI has argued that there can be no inherent expectation of privacy when a conversation takes place in a common area, no matter the distance from other human beings,” writes Daily Dot contributor Dell Cameron.

Cameron adds: The FBI and other agencies use a device called a stingray, which while “masquerading as a cell-phone tower and transmitting intermittent signals, can deceive a mobile device to force a connection. Once this link is established, the data collected by the Stingray can be used to ascertain the identity of cell phone user, along with who, when, and to which numbers a call is placed.”

The crux of the legal issue is the expectation of privacy. But increasingly, we’ve heard from experts that believe privacy could disappear entirely, in large part due to the amount of data and tracking that occurs online already. Whether or not the internet constitutes private space is heavily in debate.

In an Bloomberg interview, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr stated, “In 2015 the crime scene of today is, to me, the internet; it’s the 21st century crime scene.” Vance also said encryption is a problem for law enforcement, and tech companies have “eliminated accessibility in order to market the product. Now that means we have to figure out how to solve a problem that we didn’t create.”

Vance’s solution is to create new laws that allow police and government agents to access this data when they deem it necessary. And Vance may be right: law enforcement has a poor response rate to cybercrime, as cybercriminals get more inventive at flouting the law.

It’s understandable that law enforcement would feel somewhat helpless when it comes to cybercrime. Encryption is becoming more widespread, and users are seeking out solutions to protect their data to shield themselves from intrusion from any source. If new laws come to pass, the result could give more people more access to our data, and living publically may be the only choice, with the only recourse being to opt out of internet use entirely.

Featured image courtesy: CeBIT Australia