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Communications of the ACM


When Does Law Enforcement's Demand to Read Your Data Become a Demand to Read Your Mind?

When Does Law Enforcements Demand to Read Your Data, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

The recent dispute between the FBI and Apple has raised a potent set of questions about companies' right to design strong cryptographic protections for their customers' data. The real stakes in these questions are not just whether the security of our devices should be weakened to facilitate FBI investigations, but ultimately, the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to read our minds and most intimate private thoughts.

In the U.S. and other countries, there have been many legal cases in recent years pitting the demands of law enforcement against the concerns of technology companies and privacy advocates over access to new, technologically generated, information about people. The disputed topics have included spy agencies' bulk collection of Internet traffic and mobile phone metadata; law enforcement use of location-tracking devices, malware, and fake cellphone towers; the constitutionality of "gag orders" that make it a crime for individuals and companies to ever discuss certain requests they receive for others' data.


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