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May 20, 2016

How Far Can A Government Go To Find Out Information About You?

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:37 AM

AP Analysis: FBI Drops iPhone Case Against Apple [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtTlJi0PdLA]

The world seemed to come to a standstill when the United States government ordered Apple to unlock an iPhone that had been used by a suspected terrorist - only to have the company refuse. That the average teenage hacker could have possibly unlocked the iPhone was not the point; it was a matter of principle.

Apple claimed that if a government could order it to unlock one phone, then it could conceivably order it to unlock any phone. It would put the company in a difficult position with its loyal customers, who become loyal in part because they assume the company protects the data it receives from them.

We live in an age when information technology has made it incredibly easy for a company to obtain data about you so that it can improve the customer experience. I found it interesting that Ford no longer refers to itself as an automotive company; it calls itself a mobility company driven by software. Retailers are perhaps the best at using software solutions to practically read the minds of its shoppers so that they stock/create items they know will be bought at a certain rate.

What the Apple event did was to shed light on consumer privacy amidst a rapidly changing world. Now there's another company stepping forward, and this time it's not about a single phone but rather about consumer privacy itself. Microsoft recently filed a lawsuit against America's Department of Justice. In the suit, Microsoft says that the so-called gag order statute in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is unconstitutional. Microsoft's suit goes on to say that the gag order statute violates the Fourth Amendment right of its customers to know if the government searches or seizes their property. Plus, according to the suit, the statute violates the company's First Amendment right to speak to its customers. What Microsoft is doing is using the lawsuit to prompt a public debate about privacy in the digital age. It will be interesting to see what major corporations and organizations come to Microsoft's defense.

Consumers know that one of the reasons a shopping experience can be so seamless and pleasant is because a company knows how to utilize its data about them in such a way that their expectations will be met and even surpassed every time they walk into a store or peruse a retailer's website. Consumers are also fairly aware of the fact that companies share data with other companies - or sell it to each other. If a company that makes cars knows that you drive to certain places, like whitewater rafting locations, and another company that makes sporting equipment knows you have bought a kayak or two, there's a good chance that you enjoy the outdoors. Other companies specializing in sports and outdoor pursuits, from hoteliers to restaurants to apparel makers, will want to be part of your consumer ecosystem. The larger that technological ecosystem becomes, the more the consumer experience is enhanced.

So if a government decides it wants to get a look into that ecosystem, does a consumer have a right to know about it? And do the entities that supply the technology that fuels that consumer ecosystem have to cough up the information that a government agency demands? These are very interesting questions. They are also being debated because technology has gotten really good in the past few years. Let's face it: It wasn't until fairly recently that a company had the wide range of customer experience solutions available to it. And that those solutions were incredibly sophisticated.

I am thrilled that my doctor can get a real-time update on by blood sugar levels if I'm a diabetic. Or that my favorite store sends me an email telling me that it's having a sale on items that are of interest to me. Steve Case, the founder of AOL and one of the fathers of the Internet, says that we're in store for a 'third wave' in which the Internet will be as ubiquitous as, say, electricity. You don't really think of the electric grid when you plug in a kitchen appliance. In the near future, you won't be thinking of logging onto the Internet or surfing the web because it will be everywhere.

Indeed, the Internet of Things is really going to be the Internet of Everything. And that's why it will be fascinating to see the public discourse that forms around Microsoft's new lawsuit. If the Internet is everywhere and everything, how far can a government go to find out information about you?

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