Privacy Absolutism

The Gotham Gal has been pushing me to write this post for a few weeks. Privately with family, friends, and business colleagues, I have been saying that I believe the tech industry’s position on end to end encryption, locking everything down, securing our devices, and making it so only we can unlock them is the wrong path. I touched on this issue last month but that was more of a “what do you all think” kind of post.

I very much like what the President said in Austin late last week. To quote:

Before smartphones were invented, and to this day, if there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say we have a warrant to search your home, and they can go into your bedroom and rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing,” he said. “And we agree on that, because we recognize that just like all of our other rights … that there are going to be some constraints we impose so we are safe, secure and can live in a civilized society.

I do not think that because we now have the technology to lock things down (strong encryption) and because the industry that develops and maintains all of this technology has a strong libertarian bent that we should just abandon the framework that has worked in our society for hundreds of years. If society thinks someone is doing something wrong, and if law enforcement can get a warrant, there should be a mechanism to get access to our devices.

I would love to see the tech sector work to figure out a smart way to address this issue. My partner Albert has suggested an approach on his blog. There are some interesting approaches that are already being used in cold storage of bitcoin that could be applied to this situation.

But my meta point here is that I am saddened by the tech sector’s absolutist approach to this issue. The more interesting and fruitful approach would be to think about the most elegant solutions and build them. Because, as the President warned in Austin last week,

I am confident this is something we can solve, but we’re going to need the tech community, software designers, people who care deeply about this stuff, to help us solve it. If everybody goes to their respective corners … what you’ll find is that after something really bad happens, the politics of this will swing, and it will become sloppy and rushed and it will go through Congress in ways that have not been thought through, and then you really will have dangers to our civil liberties.