Technology is developing so fast nowadays that the world is more and more covered by digital productions. However, not so many people actually consider security issues about computing fields while using software and devices. The most important problems in this study field are client`s privacy when using the software and devices, and freedom of speech in coding for programmers. Such security issues in computing field are always considered with ethics, because those problems are not only the clients` responsibility, but also programmers` responsibility to think about. Therefore, this article supports the ideas that, to discuss clients` privacy and freedom of speech in coding, we must combine both roles involved: as clients, and as program builders. Also, by many means, clients` privacy issues are closely connected to freedom of speech in computing. This paper will mainly discuss how the mentioned issues are involved in people`s life, how the two topics are connected, and how to treat those issues as both program builders and clients. Because this article`s intended audience are programmers and the general public. For ease of understanding and simplicity, the article will not mention most technically relevant information in detail.
2. Clients` Privacy
2.1 Clients` Right of Privacy
Since most people are considered as a user of those products, client`s privacy is not a new topic for the public now. News keeps coming out about digital companies trying to sell their users` personal data, and hackers always trying to attack servers of big companies` such as Apple and Google in order to steal information. These privacy violations could be from very little issues to huge problems. It could be some mobile games which will secretly upload users` address book information, or insurance companies which stole your information from other sources and evaluate you whether it is worthy to sell you services.
More and more people start to realize the potential threats of posting private information into the public website, and take actions to prevent the leaking of personal information form being exposed. This is a good reaction since people`s increased awareness of their own information has made their chances of privacy violations much smaller. However, most people still believe that privacy security means only to protect privacy information from leaking, and that users can only be the victims instead of the aggressors. The right of privacy is people`s right to keep a domain around us, which includes all those things that are part of us, such as our body, home, property, thoughts, feelings, secrets and identity (Definition from the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution). The right to privacy gives us the ability to choose which parts in this domain can be accessed by others, and to control the extent, manner and timing of the use of those parts we choose to disclose. Therefore, privacy violation can be reflected in many aspects: some apps for mobile devices would require you to uninstall other specified software in order to be installed, or some apps would forcibly ask clients to open their specific accesses in their devices, such as address book access, photo access, and message access, etc. These are good examples of violating clients` privacy without involving personal information. Obviously, privacy issues don`t only show in information field, it also means a control of the privacy holder over their domain. When software companies ask clients to uninstall an irrelevant software, they are violating the users` privacy by forcibly change the user`s belongings. Also, since now flash sales online are becoming so popular, some people would use illegal software to get instant access to websites to get what they desire before others get the chance. This is also a violation of privacy because this kind of software change the rules that everyone should obey, and by doing this it makes an unfair competition which will benefit only the aggressors.
2.2 Privacy Issues as Two Roles: Clients and Program Builders
As we discussed above, privacy is not only a client`s issue but also software companies` issue. Therefore, to discuss privacy as clients, we should pay more attention to evaluating how secure a software or website is, and choose whether to accept all requirements from the producer, which includes but not limited to personal information requirement, action requirement (to uninstall other irrelevant software, or to open some accesses). Also, clients should not use illegal or unethical software which may harm other clients benefits. While dealing with software and websites in the internet, we should always ask ourselves questions: what kind of software are we using? Do we know what information are we providing to them? What is the information asked for by the company? How certainly do we know that the information provided will be secured? By asking several questions, clients should be more clearly about how to deal with requirements given by the software, and this can, to some extent, prevent clients` right of privacy from being violated by ridiculous conditions posted by software companies.
However, it is not enough to have only the users` awareness of protecting privacy, program builders also need to take great care to protect the privacy of their users. I support this argument because for most users, the digital devices are “black box”. Due to Mario Bunge, a black box means a set of concrete systems which can be used in terms of its inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of its internal workings (346). In this context, some software companies may tend to secretly load some programs into software, that users may not be able to know, to do something beyond the expected function of the software on the user`s computer. For example, there have been news reports claimed that a programmer who worked in a bank put a backdoor program into the bank interest calculator system, that will transfer the except for incomplete decimals in calculations to the programmer`s account, and others would not even know about their loss since this action is totally taken under the shadow. Therefore, although users can prevent some of their right of privacy from being violated by others, whether the users` private security is guaranteed still mostly depends on whether the software company intends to protect the privacy of its clients.
As program builders, there are also two roles: programmers and software companies` decision makers. Decision makers should always treat issues in the long run instead of the short run. In short run, an abuse of clients privacy can bring short-term benefits to the company, but in the long run, this means fewer users trusting the system anymore and eventually much less profit or even a loss. Also, programmers of software should prevent themselves from installing irrelevant and unethical programs into their software. Also, according to Rachel Bridge, it will be better but not required if the software can be open source and transparent to the public, since this action is voluntary and will make no profit to the program builders. Therefore, compared to clients, program builders usually need to consider more ethical issues in protecting clients privacy.
3. Freedom of Speech in Computing
3.1 Codes as A Language
Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The right should include but not limited by any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. However, it confuses people when freedom of speech comes to computing field. What kind of speech can computers present and support? I will discuss this problem in the following content.
In August 2018, Cody Wilson, who is the founder of a Texas non-profit company, posted a set of free codes and blueprints about AR-15 rifle for 3D printer, which means anyone who has a 3D printer and those codes can build such deadly weapons. However, an argument came up about whether the government should prohibit Cody Wilson from uploading his code into the Internet, because on the one hand, these data could be extremely dangerous to be published, this action means the government will not anymore be able to track those deadly weapons and check the backgrounds of a gun holder, but on the other hand, this prohibition means a violation of both Wilson`s right to bear arms and his right of freedom of speech.
Obviously, people set this argument under the background that coding is also another kind of language, people can create not exact the same code but to achieve a same goal. Also, Allison Eck, author of “Is Code Free Speech?”, argued that since “code isn’t the only language that can point to the recipe for dangerous or illegal products”, prohibiting codes to deadly weapons and dangerous products does not mean the idea that code should be considered as “a mode of expression subject to protection under the First Amendment” is rejected.
3.2 Freedom of Speech and Ethics
The discussion above shows the supportive opinion of considering codes as a language, because like other languages, codes can be a kind of expression received by other people who understand specific kind of the code. This idea also proves freedom of speech in computing. However, to discuss freedom of speech, ethical issues are always involved in. The argument about Cody Wilson keeps existing due to the fact that people always consider laws and ethics together. This is extremely complicate because laws are subjective while ethics are more objective. Another issue also comes up that the public cannot have absolute freedom and absolute secure at the same time, since they are on different sides of a scale. It often depends on which side the public will choose, if people want tot defend more for their freedom, they should have to expect people like Cody Wilson keep showing up, which will indeed create serious potential threats to public safety. Also, if people choose to be more secured, they would like to ban this kind of people by having less freedom of expressing themselves, such as publishing intimidating speech.
Cody Wilson`s action may not be illegal, but he didn`t consider enough when he published those codes. The government is still considering solutions of this case, and I think the result will depend on the choice of the public: more freedom, or more safety?
4. Freedom of Speech and Privacy
For years, the FBI and US government had been fighting with Apple for implanting new protocols to users` phone, which will make the government to be able to unlock a particular iPhone without getting the user`s permission. On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, at a hearing at the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI Director James Comey told the committee that a continuous investigation into the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, a few months ago, was still not completed, because the suspect Syed Farook`s iPhone 5c has not been unlocked, and the content stored in it may be used as evidence to help the case and other related terrorist attacks. This phone is protected by Apple`s iOS setting of erasing data after 10 continuous 10 error password inputs. Therefore, Sheri Pym, US Federal magistrate, issued a verdict against Apple asking them to work with FBI to unlock Syed`s phone.
However, the judge`s decision did not directly require Apple to unlock the iPhone involved, but asked Apple to provide full support when the FBI unlocked the device, such as writing a backdoor program that remotely or locally shuts down the feature in some way, which will create opportunity for FBI to brute force passwords. Considering the potential threats which will harm the clients` privacy if such program is created and used by official governors, Apple refused this decision, while FBI kept setting new motions that Apple should cooperate with no conditions. The FBI think their request of the backdoor program will only be used at designated situations, such as crime evaluations and evidence evaluations. However, Apple and other technology institutes believe that once such codes are published, there will be no guarantee that the program will not be in the wrong hands.
In the appeal, Apple treated the iOS software codes involved as a unique set of creative work, expressing one or a set of opinions, which means, to treat the codes as a statement. Therefore, in theory, freedom of speech in coding is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. According to US courts, freedom of speech includes both the right of expressing certain words and phrases to convey messages, and the right of not to speak. Therefore, Apple`s action of refusing helping the FBI build backdoor programs to unlock iPhones is a legitimate action of both protecting the right of speech free and their clients` right of privacy. Apple has the right and the obligation to protect the privacy of their users, and building such backdoor programs is obviously against this intention.
The argument between the FBI and Apple is still going, now the FBI had found a third party from Afghanistan to help decoding the device, and since they had successfully cracked the password, Apple believes that this action will seriously affect the privacy security of all users in the future, and appealed to the court to ask the FBI to publish the process and method of the crack. The FBI has now rejected the proposal and claimed that its actions are only based on investigations of the particular case, and there is no proof of violation of the privacy rights of Apple device users. At present, in addition to Microsoft, other technology companies like Google and WhatsApp have supported Apple`s position, this debate will still continue. However, this event strongly proves that clients` privacy rights are usually connected to freedom of speech in computing field. Rights of free speech in computing does not only mean the rights of clients, but also means the rights of software companies that whether they should publish some particular codes or programs.
Also, except of freedom of speech of human in computing field, there are also arguments about freedom of speech which machines might be able to hold, and should be protected by human. This argument will be detailly discussed in the following section.
- Bridge, Rachel. “Open Source Software: Advantages & Disadvantages.” Entrepreneur Handbook, Entrepreneur Handbook, 5 Sept. 2019, https://entrepreneurhandbook.co.uk/open-source-software/.
- Eck, Allison. “Is Code Free Speech?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 27 July 2018, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/is-code-free-speech/.
- Rivkin, David B., and Andrew M. Grossman. “Apple, the FBI and Free Speech.” Cato Institute, The Cato Institute, 23 Feb. 2016, https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/apple-fbi-free-speech.
- Massaro, Toni M, and Helen L Norton. “Siri-Ously? Free Speech Rights and Artificial Intelligence.” Northwestern University Law Review, vol. 110, 2016, pp. 1170-1192
- “What Does Free Speech Mean?” United States Courts, https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does.
- Bunge, Mario; ‘A general black-box theory’, Philosophy of Science, Vol. 30, No. 4, 1963, pp. 346-358. jstor/186066