Whatever side of the debate you’re on when it comes to Apple and the FBI, one thing is for certain: U.S. courts should not be using laws written in 1789 to make decisions about current technological capabilities. Over the years, many laws have been written then repealed—from prohibition to slavery to land ownership to voting rights, there’s no shortage of precedents. What may have made sense at one time no longer stood the test of time, and the courts took the action to overrule outdated practices and irrelevant laws.
Now is the time to take a look at laws relating to current technology and its use.
Back in the 18th—or 19th or even most of the 20th—century, no one could have predicted all of the capabilities of the wallet-sized devices we carry around everywhere, every day. Who would have been able to envision a world in which any person could retrieve turn-by-turn directions from Duluth to Detroit simply by speaking into a voice recorder? Or how about the ability to raise or lower the temperature in one’s home while 2,000 miles away simply by pressing a button?
Time may change me, but I can’t trace time
To put this in perspective, the telephone was invented 140 years ago. The television, only 89 years ago. Today, anyone with a smartphone can not only watch TV—in high definition—on his or her phone, but can do so regardless of location, time, or channel. A user in England can subscribe to a Japanese provider to watch those hilarious game shows on demand. My teenage niece can watch every episode of Friends on Netflix (and skip all the commercials) even though the final episode aired seven years before she was born.
What’s the point? It’s that technology is changing at a rapid pace and things that could not have been accomplished even 10 years ago are now done with the touch of a screen. Communications have been dramatically transformed. When my best friend from college moved overseas in 1997, the only real-time ways to keep in touch were email (if we both happened to be on at the same time) or $.07 per minute telephone calls. Today? I hit her up on Skype or text message (for free) and we chat live.
Our current methods of communication result in private conversations and messages being recorded—in ways that were not technologically possible back when All Writs was written. Even The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), written in 1994, can’t take into account all of the things people do with modern technology. So why is the government trying to rely on outdated, disconnected statutes to enforce decisions in 2016?
Turn and face the strange
The implications spread both ways; Edward Snowden revealed an awful lot about the U.S. government that I’m sure they didn’t want disclosed. Their conversations, their emails, their private communications are subject to the capabilities of modern technology as well, so it seems illogical that anyone would fight for decades- or centuries-old laws to govern usage of or access to those communications.
Instead of fighting over who should create backdoors for what technology, shouldn’t we be addressing the issues at hand? Does it not make more sense to write laws that make sense for present-day communications? It’s encouraging that the tech industry is banding together to fight for technology rights; it’s also time, however, to band together and start fighting for legislation that makes sense today.