Tech Companies Will Alert Users of Data Demands

May 20, 2014
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By ShannonPerry

With the current public attention on information security and privacy, major tech companies’ increasing reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement officers – in this case, by no longer handing over American data without their notification – is an important trend.

In the past authorities have frequenlty notified the persons involved when investigators enter a home or tap a landline in efforts to procure evidence. That same notification has not always translated to the digital sphere, where investigators have often received user data from companies without the awareness of their customers. But the technology sector is increasingly rejecting that paradigm today, with companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple updating their privacy policies to hinder secret searches.

According to the Washington Post, Google has updated its privacy policy to ensure that users are notified of data seizures – except in severe situations where (for example) someone is threatened with physical injury; lawyers with Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple are working to update their positions as well, opting for more privacy and more notifications. The argument against secret data seizures maintains that the government already monitors too much of Americans’ lives. In light of the revelations made by government contractor Edward Snowden, Americans deserve greater levels of privacy and should not be subjected to such scrutiny without their knowledge.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published its first “Who Has Your Back” report in 2011; the document rates the country’s major telecommunications and high-tech companies on how much they side with their customers and how transparently they operate. Back in 2011, Twitter was the only company to receive a star in the “tell users about data demands” column. By 2013, seven companies were receiving that stars. When the 2014 report is released, we can expect to see that notifying customers is more commonplace now than ever before.

Privacy and transparency are respectable business objectives, but individuals of law enforcement agencies see things differently. Frequently, quick and unimpeded searches yield the most incriminating evidence against lawbreakers. When individuals are forewarned about seizures, they have the opportunity to destroy evidence and deny investigators the necessary proof to make an arrest or complete a conviction. This means that more criminals will get away with more law-breaking – at the price of more privacy for the rest of us.

Whether you prefer more justice or more privacy, the tech industry knows where it stands. We will have to wait and see how the government perceives and adapts to this noncooperation trend.