Why Privacy Is Everyone’s Business

The current high stakes battle between the FBI and Apple isn’t something that will be settled anytime soon. As we wade deeper into a digital world, law enforcement agencies and courts are increasingly looking to peer into devices, such as the iPhone used by one of the killers in last December’s attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

Meanwhile, companies such as Apple want to convince the public that the devices they use are completely private—and untouchable.

The battle involves a hornet’s nest of privacy issues and security concerns. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, describes it as “an arms race” that will continue to simmer until Congress clarifies responsibilities and legal requirements for investigations and court cases.

Yet, regardless of the outcome of the Apple-FBI battle and others like it, it’s clear that this latest tussle is merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. Over the next few years, government, companies and consumers will continue to battle over how the future unfolds.

A February pulse poll conducted by Accenture found that a great deal of ambivalence exists about privacy and personal information, including iris scans, fingerprints and digital photographs. Many are unwilling to supply this information to government in exchange for faster and more personalized services.

In fact, even the promise of faster processing of passports and tax returns was not enough to tempt many citizens to share biometrics data. More than 50 percent of respondents—across generations—said “no” to sharing iris scans with the government. What’s more, despite the availability of photographs on social media, 45 percent of citizens, including Millennials, said they would not share a digital photograph with government.

Before you dismiss the Accenture findings as nothing more than “government mistrust,” consider this: nearly two-thirds of consumers supply false information to businesses—including e-mail addresses and birth dates. In fact, a separate Accenture report, Guarding and Growing Personal Data Value, found that 71 percent of consumers are “not confident” about the security of their personal data. More than half believe that companies aren’t doing enough to build trust with customers.

The takeaway for CIOs? After years of government and enterprise indifference about personal information and privacy, after thousands of breaches and breakdowns, the keg of dynamite is finally exploding. Ignore privacy issues at your own peril.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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