When Privacy Becomes an IT Issue

Law enforcement has virtually unlimited ability to make requests for electronic information without a warrant and this power can cost you money in time and resources responding to requests.

The Economist published an article this week on data privacy, an issue many IT pros might sympathize with, but overall don’t see it affecting them from a business perspective all that much. But they would be wrong because requests for information from law enforcement are increasing every year, and as of right now, most countries don’t have laws in place to hold the police in check, allowing law enforcement to make virtually unlimited requests for information.

As the article pointed out, as the ways we communicate change, laws have been slow to keep up, so communication via email and mobile devices is not often covered under the traditional privacy protection laws. If The FBI wants to see your snail mail, it needs a warrant. If it wants to see your email, it can just make a request to your ISP (or to your company).

The Economist article points out that Verizon reports requests for information from government and law enforcement have increased 15 percent in each of the last 5 years. It’s gotten so bad in fact, that companies have to maintain staffs just to handle these requests.

Of course, not every company provides mobile services, but chances are if the government can make these requests willy-nilly from telecommunication companies, it can make them from yours too. And these types of legal requests take manpower and time to respond to. That costs money and resources that could be doing something more useful related to your actual business mission.

When it starts to hit your wallet, it becomes a business matter, and it’s even an issue in the EU where privacy is usually valued uber alles. Of course, criminals, terrorists and other unsavory characters use digital communications methods because they’re humans in the 21st century. Criminals also used and phones and mail in the 20th century. It doesn’t mean the government should be able to track you without court oversight because bad people sometimes use these methods.

And laws provide protection for phones and mail, yet not for digital communications.

That’s why it might be in the best interest of IT to lobby the executive suite to lobby elected officials about the value of privacy oversight by the court system. The more leeway the government is given to access private communication, history has shown the more it will take, and if you have to respond it, it’s probably going to cost you money.

Photo by davidsonscott15 on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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