Law school moderates debate over security, privacy

Zach Lyons

The Texas Federalist Society and the Strauss Center hosted a debate Monday to explore the balance between privacy and security.

The event’s title, “FBI vs. Apple”, was derived from a federal case filed in February, in which the FBI petitioned the central California district court for Apple’s help in unlocking an iPhone used by a perpetrator of the mass shooting that occurred in San Bernardino, California, last December. Complying would compromise security for all their users and set “a dangerous precedent,” Apple said. The FBI dropped the case on March 28 when an anonymous third party came forward and helped the FBI get into the phone.

The debate was moderated by Robert Chesney, associate dean for academic affairs for the UT School of Law. Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute, who represented Apple’s side, said requiring developers, such as Apple, to create a flaw in the encryption of their devices that is exploitable to law enforcement could be dangerous.

“If governments get to force developers to employ their keys this way, we’re really living in a world where none of our devices are truly secure,” Sanchez said.

Representing the FBI’s side, Susan Hennessey, managing editor of the Lawfare blog, said the government shouldn’t abstain from imposing its authority on issues of encryption and that it would be unwise to “outsource” compliance to Silicon Valley firms.

“When law enforcement is armed with legal process — we’ve all decided — they get to see something, and they get to do it in order to investigate crimes, to bring people to justice,” Hennessey said.

Law student Carmen Tellez said she is on the fence about the issue and was pleased with the balance of the debate.

 “I really appreciated how neither side was overly passionate about their stance, more that they were taking a neutral view and conceding to the other side,” Tellez said.

Hennessey said the government doesn’t have a great track record with technology issues and that any legislation created to address the matter needs to be competent and accommodating of the type of technologies used to facilitate secure transactions on websites or protect customers.

“It can’t possibly be as simple as just, ‘figure it out,’ or banning end-to-end encryption, or adopting these kind of broad mandates,” Hennessey said.