16 Mar 2016

Habeas Deviceus

The encryption debate is fascinating. The arguments on both ends are sound. I tend to side more with Apple on this because I think that the current technical answers from the FBI-side are not satisfactory: a door is a door for everyone. Yet, I would also be extremely disappointed to live in a world where there is no trust in our ability to collectively live together. We should not have to hide all of our data, ideas and thoughts by default.

Despite Obama’s terrible track record when it comes to privacy, he has a point when he says:

Before smartphones were invented, and to this day, if there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say we have a warrant to search your home, and they can go into your bedroom and rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing.

However, since the dawn of legal systems, there are limits that could not be crossed by anyone: your physical body. A warrant has never let anyone actually enter your body and your brain to prove what you knew, where you’d been, what you’ve thought about.

What the crypto wars ask us this time is to decide whether indeed our devices are like our homes, or if they’re part of our bodies.

Emotionally, there’s less and less doubt. In many part of the world, the connectivity enabled by our devices is more important than drinkable water or home toilets. The french philosopher (and Stanford professor) Michel Serres famously said one of the key characteristics of humans is the fact that they “outsource” their physical capabilities to tools. We run much slower than most animal our size, yet, we’re able to move faster than any other living thing. Our brains, despite their size and capabilities may also be following the same trend: computers are already much better at storing information than us and much faster at processing it.

Setting the limit of what is a person will be crucial to determine the basis of a legal system for the digital age.

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