Vice President, Global Consumer Marketing Gary is the worldwide marketing lead for McAfee Consumer, Mobile ...
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
Personal privacy: It’s a tenant of American citizenship, but also the source of a long-held debate over the balance between an individual liberty and national security. Where should governments draw the line, and what do consumers need to know about balancing their own privacy with security?
Take, for example, Silent Text, one of a few new encryption apps built to allow anyone to “send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button.” For context, encryption is a key part of what most security company does for its users. It’s the process of scrambling information, like your email messages, in such a way that eavesdroppers or hackers cannot read it.
At first glance, this technology sounds extremely appealing – especially for those, like wartime journalists, who work in sensitive or high-surveillance environments. Still, there’s a downside, which delves into the exact same debate that Benjamin Franklin wrote about in 1775: Just because the app was made with good intentions in mind does not mean that it will always be used responsibly.
Even Silent Text’s founders have let on that, in theory, the app could be used to aid criminals. This risk is an inevitable consequence of having the technology and freedom to manage our desire to share, shred, post, delete, store, and access information online with a privacy level of our choosing (including extreme secrecy), which is why so many believe encryption apps like Silent Text will spark controversy within the US government. For example, what happens when law enforcement officials need to gather forensics evidence in a high-profile court case?
Privacy vs. Security: Determining Your Threshold
What I want all of our readers to understand is that privacy is a spectrum, and it’s best characterized as the fair and authorized use of personal information (making sure that Facebook doesn’t share your information with unauthorized ad agencies, for example). This is different from secrecy, which is a personal choice to fall on the extreme end of the privacy spectrum. Privacy does not equal secrecy, but privacy may demand secrecy for certain information in certain contexts.
What users at home need to do before using an extreme privacy app like Silent Text is to determine where they lie along this spectrum – their own privacy threshold. In the end, many of us will choose not to use this type of encryption technology simply because of its security implications. Still, there are many ways you can (and should) regularly monitor and manage your online privacy.