Theright of the government to have a free access to personal informationand private communications has been a controversial issue for severaldecades. The issue has resulted in the development of two camps whereone of them argues that giving the government a free access topersonal communications is an infringement of the citizen’s rightto privacy. The second camp holds that the government’s free accessto private communication is for the public good since it will enhancethe capacity of the law enforcement officers to detect and detercrime (Ki-moon, 2012). This paper will analyze a view given by apresidential candidate, Jeb Bush, who stated that providers oftechnology-based communications (including Google and Apple) shouldencrypt clients’ communications in a way that will allow thegovernment a free access to those communications. Bush’s view thatproviders of technology services should exempt the government fromencryption is ethical and should be supported.
Whythe government should have access to private information
Maintainingthe national security
Theadvancement in the field of technology has enhanced communicationsince people can now pass messages from any part of the world withina few seconds and at a cheap price. However, citizens shouldunderstand that improved communication has not only benefited them,but criminals have also gotten an ideal platform to share their planswith other members of their terror groups. To this end, encryptingcommunications in a way that the government can access and reviewthem will allow the security agencies to discover crime plans in timeand prevent them before they are implemented (Ki-moon, 2012).Although the opponents of this idea claim that allowing thegovernment to access personal information hurts, it is evident thatmonitoring communications can prevent terror attacks and protectcitizens from mass killings.
Thetheory of utilitarianism holds that an action can be considered to beethical if its consequences maximize the happiness of the majority ofthose who are affected by the action (Rainbow, 2002). Similarly, themorality of the government’s access to technology basedcommunications can be determined on the basis of the possibleconsequences of such an action. For example, it has been reportedthat NSA’s surveillance program, which focuses on the analysis ofphone and email communications, helped the law enforcement agenciesprevent 50 terror attacks in the year 2013 (Sterman, 2014). Allowinggovernment a free access to phone and email communications, which canbe accomplished by exempting the law enforcement agencies fromencryption, will make it easy to detect terror plans and protect thelives and property of citizens. Although many people may notunderstand the potential impacts of terrorist attacks that have beenprevented, the government actions will maximize the well-being of themajority, which proves that accessing private communications isethical.
Therapid growth of terror activities and an increase in the number ofyouths joining terror groups can be attributed to the ease ofaccessing propaganda. According to Ki-moon (2012) terror groups areable to use the internet in several ways to expand their geographicalcoverage, which include spreading of propaganda, training youthsonline, financing, planning, and execution of terror activities.Propaganda may take the form of a multimedia type of communication,which provides those who access it with practical or ideologicalinstructions on how to join terror groups. The lack of suitablemeasures to allow the law enforcement officers to reviewcommunications that are conveyed through encrypted platforms hasgiven terror groups an opportunity to radicalize millions of youthsacross the world. For example, terror groups have been able to shareover 257,000 beheading videos and over one million films on easysteps on how one can make a bomb (Behr, Reding, Edwards &Gribbon, 2013). The flow of this voluminous information increases thesusceptibility of vulnerable youths, who join and engage in terroractivities, even without meeting with the leaders of terror groupsphysically.
Thegovernment has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from anyform of threat, including the access to harmful information. Thedeontological theory holds that the morality of an action can bedetermined on the basis of whether it was taken to fulfill certainduties and obligations (Rainbow, 2002). Before, the discovery of theinternet, the government could protect its citizens from harmfulinformation and goods through border patrol, but technology haspolarized the national borders. Therefore, the most effective waysthat the government can execute its duty of preventing harmfulinformation from reaching vulnerable youths and other citizens isreviewing internet-based communications. Although the government maybe able to decrypt messages conveyed via the platforms owned byGoogle and Apple, allowing the law enforcement officers a free accessto these communications will increase efficiency in filtering allmessages. Therefore, accessing personal communication for thepurposes of filtering out harmful information is an ethical actionthat should not be objected by citizens.
Legalperspective of the issue
Opponentsof the issue of allowing the government a free access to privatecommunications claim that privacy is protected by the law. Citing thelaw may be a sufficient reason to show that the government’s accessto private information is unethical, but the opponents need torealize that the law and the court decisions have given numerousexemptions. Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA) requireproviders of digital communication services (such as Google andApple) to allow the law enforcement officers access real-timecommunications with a court order and obtain historical communicationwith a subpoena (Meyer, 2014). The provisions of ECPA are not theonly factors that justify the exemption of government fromencryption. There are several court orders showing that thegovernment should have a free access to private communicationsdepending on the intended use of the information.
Courtshave set a precedence that the access to private communications bythe government agencies is for a good cause. For example, in the caseof Smithversus Maryland 1979,the Supreme Court ruled that the protection provided by the FourthAmendment does not include the phone numbers (Meyer, 2014).Similarly, in the case of U.S.versus Forrester 2008,the government successfully convinced the court that tracking the IPaddress and phone calls of suspicious characters was legal (Meyer,2014). These court decisions indicate the government’s access toprivate communication is for the public good and within the law,which confirms that exempting the law enforcement agencies fromencryption can be regarded to be an ethical action.
Bush’sview that providers of technology services (such as Google and Apple)should exempt the government from the encryption that is done onclients’ communications is ethical. Terror groups and criminalgangs have taken advantage of the ease of communication that isprovided by technology to plan and execute their criminal activities.In addition, technology has reduced the capacity of the government toprotect the country and individual citizens from receiving harmfulinformation, since border patrols cannot prevent information fromentering the country. Based on the facts of security concerns and thespread of harmful information, allowing the government to have a freeaccess to private communications will maximize the well-being of themajority. Therefore, Bush’s view is ethical and it will bring morebenefits to the nation than the potential harms that might come alongwith it.
Behr,V., Reding, A., Edwards, C. & Gribbon, L. (2013). Radicalizationin the digital era.Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Ki-moon,B. (2012). Theuse of the internet for terrorist purposes.New York, NY: The United Nations.
Meyer,T. (2014, June 27). No warrant, no problem: How the government canget your digital data. ProPublica Incorporation.Retrieved October 6, 215, fromhttps://www.propublica.org/special/no-warrant-no-problem-how-the-government-can-still-get-your-digital-data
Rainbow,C. (2002). Descriptionsof ethical theories and principles.Davidson, NC: Davidson College.
Sterman,D. (2014, January 13). Do NSA’s bulk surveillance programs stopterrorists? InternationalSecurity.Retrieved October 6, 2015, fromhttps://www.newamerica.org/international-security/do-nsas-bulk-surveillance-programs-stop-terrorists/