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Security threats & co-existence of freedom (privacy) and security

Published on 30 April, 2014

Privacy or Security?

Privacy: Does it really exist? Does it matter? You still hear about privacy concerns in our market, but in many ways the privacy ship has sailed.

A session on privacy at ISC West reminded me how much privacy expectations have changed in the era of Facebook. Now people think nothing of posting personal information in a public forum that clearly identifies who they are. What a shift from the days when anonymous screen names both protected identities and encouraged greater candour. Now it’s all out there for anyone to read.

In fact, today people identify themselves on the Internet in the context of social networks, telling what they did and where they were. Social networks also identify the relationships among people -- who has friended who, who is a business contact, etc.

When it comes to a criminal investigation, all this data can be leveraged, and we have already seen law enforcement trolling Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for information that can shed light on criminal activity. For many people, the “social” benefits of social media far outweigh any remote and theoretical concerns about privacy – at least until a prospective employer stumbles across those compromising party photos.

Security threats of different kinds

Privacy concerns have a practical element, too. People tend to accept less privacy if they can see the benefits. Fredrik Nilsson of Axis noted at the ISC West session that people are much more accepting of video surveillance in public places because they see the benefit. Contrast that to concerns about NSA spying – the benefits aren’t as obvious, so we tend to be less accepting. Protection against theoretical threats in the future are less urgent in our minds than protection against a mugging on a city street.

Can "freedom" and "security"
actually exist together? How
much freedom must we give up
for how much security? How
much security must we give
up to be free?

After 9/11, we were all ready to give up more privacy in the interest of preventing another such attack. As the intervening years have dimmed our initial reaction to the tragedy, the pendulum is swinging back. Maybe the government does have too much access to private information. Maybe they have used our fears about terrorism as an excuse to invade our privacy unnecessarily. Have the measures we now may see as a threat to our privacy actually accomplished anything – or prevented any incidents?

Can “freedom” and “security” actually exist together? How much freedom must we give up for how much security? How much security must we give up to be free? These are big questions with no easy answers – and, for that matter, no static answers. It’s a continually shifting balance that changes based on current events, whether it’s the latest data breach or a terrorist attack.

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