The Tale of Two Elephants: Finding the Balance Between the Right to privacy and National Security

Following the recent terrorist attack at Westminster, London, the legal authorities have been faced with the challenge of getting access to private data as soon as evidence suggested that the attacker was in use of WhatsApp three minutes before the attack.

While the authorities are asking the tech companies to voluntarily allow them access, the tech giants have clearly stated and maintained their stance that they would not allow such as it’s against their policy and pledge to their users.

Various arguments by the two parties have been raised in view of this situation. Therefore it is the intention of the author to find the right balance between the right to private and national security.

WhatsApp which seems to be the villain as acted out by the government have raised rationales as to why they would not assist the government in creating a back door to get access to private data. One of its justifications was the purpose of encryption of data which is to protect its users’ data from hackers. The government authorities not too pleased with this rationale, argued that the purpose of data encryption has been overreached which makes it difficult for them to solve crime cases and prevent terror attacks.

Another reason given by WhatsApp is the possibility of these extremists switching to other communication platforms, which would make no sense to then create a back door investigating one man while putting the other billion users at risk of exploitation of their right to privacy by unapologetic hackers.

The government have in response stated that there would be no hiding space for terrorists and as such, it was unacceptable for WhatsApp or any tech company in the justification of their policy rights, to refuse them their demands.

While there have been raging critics for and against the actions of WhatsApp, it is important to strike a right balance between the right to privacy and national security

The UK Data Protection Act in its first schedule provides that personal data will only be obtained for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose/purposes. It further provides that accidental loss or damages to personal data will face technical and organizational measures.

The Investigatory Powers Act and The Counter – Terrorism Act also provides that tech companies can be legally compelled to hand over data for investigatory purposes. These legislations evidence that UK now wields surveillance powers over tech companies.

While it may look like a great idea for the authorities to enforce these legal provisions, having given the power to do so, its effect will undoubtedly pose economic threats such as giant tech companies, corporations and global bodies leaving the shores of the country which will result economic downturn.

More importantly, the security of the country will be further threatened not just by extremists who would source for smaller and unpopular communication platforms to execute their deadly plans, but most sadly the social and political upheaval which would be caused by its own citizens and residents as a result of the gross violations of their right to privacy resulting in a country devoid of peace, stability and economic growth.

However, it will definitely be unconscionable for these tech giants to ignore the loops in their technical programs and not proffer a solution to the misuse of their social platforms by these extremists while making a noise about data protection.

Therefore, while it is advised that the government authorities avoid the Orwellian approach of punishing the good people to catch the bad guys, and the tech companies being more concerned about national security than enrichment of themselves in the hypocrisy of data protection, it is recommended that the two opposing teams should become a team in proffering solutions to putting a stop to these attacks.

While it is not easy to proffer a solution which would not hurt either of the parties in relation to national interest and data protection, it is important that these stakeholders come together to implement a balanced policy on privacy and security.

More importantly, it is highly recommended that these tech companies develop software or programs that identify terrorist activities and provide more support for emerging communication platforms to close all ends and avoid any leakage for terrorists to carry out their activities.

The right to privacy and national security must not be compromised. Any compromise on the right to privacy could also lead to vulnerability of its security to external attackers. As such, there is an obligation on the shareholders to find the right balance between national security and privacy by way of a new legislation which closes the loopholes that the existing legislations already have.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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ESTHER OYEWOLE

Esther is an undergraduate of law in the university of Lagos, currently in her penultimate year. She enjoys writing law and business articles, including writing resumes and proposals for individuals, and organizations. Her freedom lies in the ability to use her imaginations to solve problems and living to her fullest human potential.

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