Virtually all reading this post will attest to owning at least one, likely several, Mobile devices. Tablets and Phones have become virtually as ubiquitous as articles of clothing for all who use them, and a quick trip down the streets of a busy city, or at a seat in an airport anywhere, will attest to the head bowed look of all those playing with, talking to, or reading from their smart devices.
We use them for everything. From a source of entertainment (So successful are our smart devices at game playing that Android Operating Systems have found their way into specially built handheld devices such as the Nvidia Shield designed ONLY to play games), to analysis of live data (Recent prototypes allow for devices placed on the skin to read blood alcohol content in real time and have this data analyzed on a smart phone or tablet) to the storage of our most personal and private information.
They are extensions, really, of our own brains, but with much better ability to perform flawless storage and retrieval of these ‘digital memories’ consisting of everything from cherished photos commemorating the events of our lives, to social media portals where everything is hung out to dry, to personal notes, and of course, who really ‘memorizes’ phone numbers anymore? Our devices have become extensions of ourselves, used to store and retrieve the information that our busy lives and equally busy minds, no longer seem to have the time or attention span to keep track of.
And its’ this final point that has become the focus of much legal wrangling regarding just who can access the information stored on our hand held devices, and who can ‘force’ those who own the devices, to either break into them, or more peacefully unlock them upon request.
A recent case involving Apple, a Smartphone containing such personal information, the FBI, and literally the whole planet, proves this point. The phone contained data that would normally be considered ’thoughts’, but it was digitized onto the device in question, thereby making it a target of the investigation. Had the thoughts remained in the minds of those who imagined them, would there be equal compulsion and force (in this case, the force used to hack into the device) brought to bear on their extraction? A person who held such crucial information could be, if still alive and capable of a response, questioned (Sometimes with a vigor that skirts what is legally permissible) in order to divulge those secrets from their minds. But that is no guarantee that the responses given would be truthful, let alone, accurate representations of what REALLY occurred or what the REAL secrets were – we’d only get the minds altered retrieval of the information at best.
Clearly, manufacturers of our smart devices go to great lengths to keep the information stored within their digital confines, as secure as possible, hence the reason it took so long to circumvent the security of the Apple phone in the most recent FBI case involving this somewhat new (In the grand scheme of humanity) legal ground. Offers to ‘crack’ the device came from the world over, yet in the end, their assistance was not needed.
In the United States, if ones personal device and the information it carries is secured by Biometric methods (Read: Fingerprint/Retina Scan or the like) then one can be compelled by law to supply such biometric information for the retrieval of the stored data on the device. Yes, they can court order you to place your thumb on the reader to unlock your phone. But… if one uses a Password/PIN to secure their device, no such legal mandate exists as a Password is stored within the mind of its owner and cannot be forcibly divulged via legal channels.
This is an interesting distinction indeed!
A recent OS update on my own Smartphone now requires that I ‘Protect my Fingerprints’ via a PIN or Password… It seems another step towards keeping at least some of our personal information that we store ‘Offline’ outside of our often blurry remembering, is being actively taken.
As these technologies evolve further, and as our need for storing more and more of our ‘Information’ that we are now able to garner from more and more sources becomes more and more of a brokered transaction between ourselves and numerous global organizations, I expect this debate to rage on and grow in scope.