The Coexistence of Privacy and Security

min read

Privacy and security are two increasingly vital elements in the cyberworld. Privacy is the concept of users controlling their own information, whereas security is the concept of keeping all users safe. As society advances into the future, it is becoming increasingly dependent on technology. This dependence is leading to greater vulnerabilities and an increased risk of security breaches, which in turn can lead to a loss of privacy and security. As users, it is our responsibility to protect our data by setting strong passwords, using virtual private networks (VPNs) or other forms of encryption, and limiting how we share our data. Nonetheless, these measures to protect ourselves online are sometimes not enough.

The major controversy plaguing the cyberworld is the security versus privacy debate. Should we surrender our private information to preserve security for the greater good of society? What consequences result from subordinating privacy to security? How do we balance the two? These are some of the ethical concerns we must address to be more resolute in our stances.

There can be an acceptable level of security without any breach of privacy. The protection of information on the Internet should follow the same government regulations established before the advent of the Internet. Of course any breach of these rules may lead to the loss of privacy through government intervention.

Unfortunately, privacy must be compromised when there is a threat to our collective security. Collective security is very difficult to achieve without any collateral, as threats to security are hard to predict. This leads to laws — like the Patriot Act — that justify the breach of users’ privacy using weak probable cause. As a responsible user, there should never be a situation in which your privacy should be breached. However, there is a concern that the government will use these laws to continuously breach the privacy of all users, and continue to monitor users for purposes other than security while justifying it in the name of national or collective security.

"Ultimate security" is an ideal that is far-fetched. One cannot hope to achieve ultimate and ideal security if the very people you are protecting have lost their right to privacy. Breaching the privacy of users, unfortunately, is counterproductive and often achieves the exact opposite of what security aims to do.

How can any government justify breaching privacy? Or how can a government effectively protect us? Nothing can be done with extremes. We must find a balance in government intervention. We must follow paths that lead to both privacy and security. Too much government intervention leads to no privacy and a false sense of security, and not enough leaves us vulnerable.

Everything is good in moderation. If the government only intervenes when there is actually probable cause, then the protection of individuals’ rights can be maintained. How can the government do this? The idea of the government already having tabs on everyone is scary and very real. The fact that this is true means that we already have no privacy, and it is the duty of every citizen to participate in the debate of privacy and security in order to get our privacy back and ensure true security.

Sharif Abdelbaky is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.

© 2017 Sharif Abdelbaky. This EDUCAUSE Review blog is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.