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The Brett Winterble Show

Invasion of privacy a finger away from being erased

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What do we define as privacy in today's world? I'm truly asking. I have a high level of difficulty coming with even the most realistic version of what privacy means to me and to the rest of the country/world. On the flip side, when we put our trust in our police officers, detectives and others involved in law enforcement to help catch criminals and possible accomplices in order to solve cases, we want them to use all the resources they have at their disposal without going too far.

So, the question is, where do we draw that fine line? Is it even a line that can be drawn? It sounds completely arbitrary when you really think about it. Let me provide this latest example for you: a man was murdered, and law enforcement has determined, based on information and theories they've carried out, that they need to search the dead man's cell phone. However, they don't have the man's fingerprint or pass-code to open up the phone. These officials have now gone to Michigan State University and hope to receive help from a computer science professor.

Jain is a computer science professor who works on biometric identifiers such as facial recognition programs, fingerprint scanners and tattoo matching; he wants to make them as difficult to hack as possible. But the police were interested in the opposite of this: they wanted his help to unlock a dead man’s phone. (Fusion.net)

Let's take a giant step back for a moment. Do we not remember the huge controversy surrounding the December 2015 shooting at a government building in San Bernardino. The shooter, who was later identified as to having pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, had a government-issued Apple iPhone and officials had great reasons to believe the shooter's phone would contain some important information pertaining to either the shooting and/or other projects associated with radical Islam. Apple refused an FBI's order to find a way to open the phone because, in its words, they didn't want the government to be able to control the algorithm that could unlock a number of citizens' phones. 

How does this latest instance of law enforcement trying to finagle their way into a man's phone that could have incriminating evidence for someone else, whether said person helped commit a crime or is planning crimes elsewhere that are somewhat related to this murder? These muddy waters are only going to get worse unless companies like Apple are willing to be more cooperative and government/law enforcement officials are willing to do what they can to earn our absolute trust to follow the law and solve these crimes.

It's completely understandable from Apple's perspective, but there's something a bit more alarming from this latest story that should have you scratching your head and thinking like a madman. What's to stop law enforcement from getting access to this murdered man's cell phone with a 3D finger, and perhaps conjuring up something to frame an innocent person without any attempt in getting the accomplice/other suspect? I'm not saying that all cops do this. However, there are some sour apples in the bunch that have agendas and will do what they can to track down that elusive person he/she has been chasing for years.

I totally understand the ethical conundrum facing the Michigan State University professor because he doesn't want to lack morals and perhaps have a man/woman go to jail when they had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. However, at what point do we, as a society, have to arrive where the leading companies in biometrics, 3D printing, technology (as a whole), and law enforcement work together to help reach a common goal? I'm not saying that government needs to lay down more regulation of these companies in order to have some sort of sovereignty over them, but you would think any logical-thinking adult would want to rid the streets of murderers with the advancements in technology we have nowadays.

Let's look at a couple things that law enforcement and government officials need to remember just in case they continue to find a way to break into the deceased's cell phone: I'm not sure exactly how long it's been since the phone has been charged, but one would hope that, if it's an iPhone, the phone has not run out of battery power. Having an iPhone myself, I know that once your phone powers down, whether due to low battery or just a need to reset, you have to enter your pass-code. Your fingerprint is rendered useless at this point. Also, what's to stop government officials from printing out fingerprints themselves and just unlocking the phone in the first place? Are our fingerprints not already in some sort of national database? Conversely, do we know whether the man was a documented citizen here in the United States? If not, that could be another hurdle that's tough to clear.

I know a lot of Constitutional conservatives will be very protective of their 4th Amendment rights in that law enforcement does not have a right to search and seizure your home, car, phone, etc., without a warrant. It's really important that we hold true to our values and rights that have kept this great country going for 240 years. The Bill of Rights are absolutely vital to our existence here in these United States. The 4th Amendment protecting us from illegal search and seizure, and the 5th Amendment protecting us from self-incrimination, are the most important rights we must remember from a story like this. I'm all for helping law enforcement catch these awful degenerates in any way, shape or form, within the legal limits of the law. I will not participate in ethical quandaries like this and print out a three-dimensional copy of a dead guy's finger just so they can unlock a cell phone. 

We have no idea how to monitor these officials in ways to make sure they don't abuse the technology of printing 3D items, but one thing is more likely than not: if you're of a sound mind, you wouldn't think twice in rejecting the idea of helping law enforcement copy a deceased human's finger and not expect to endure some legal ramifications of some sort. Don't just do something. Do the right thing. 

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