SECURE North America | Apple Stories: How Technology Has Mediated Technology Through History

[ This article was originally published here ]

SECURE North America - Apple StoriesIf you’ve ever wondered about the relationship between privacy and apples, privacy expert J. Trevor Hughes explained the connection during a session at the (ISC)² SECURE North America one-day virtual event.

“Privacy is a fundamental human truth,” he said. “It has existed since the dawn of time.” In fact, he said, privacy concerns started after Adam and Eve committed the crime that got them expelled from the Garden of Eden. They ate an apple they weren’t supposed to.

Since then, privacy perceptions and concerns have evolved as new threats in the form of new technologies – flexible film, the telephone and the smartphone – have emerged. Technology, he says, mediates privacy. Along the way, we’ve had to adjust and find ways to protect privacy.

“Privacy is an eternal negotiation,” said Hughes, who serves as President and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

Privacy concerns, often overstated by the media, have always existed, he said. What’s different today is the speed of change brought on by technology and the risks to privacy created by change. The rate of change has exceeded the capacity to address the issue, he said.

Still, Hughes expressed optimism in a new piece of legislation under consideration by the U.S. Congress, the American Data Protection Privacy Act, which would restrict the use of private data by organizations operating in the U.S.

Using works of art such as Michaelangelo’s David and Peter de Hooch’s painting of a mother delousing her child, Hughes explained that privacy involves physical, spatial and emotional dimensions. It also includes a communications component that is involved in human interaction. And with the advent of the Information Age, it picked up another component – information about us, which has become increasingly digital and accessible to larger numbers of people.

Apple Stories

But what about the apples? How do they relate to privacy?

Hughes told three stories, each involving an apple of some kind, to illustrate the evolution of privacy. It all started with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. It was then that the Bible’s first couple recognized their nakedness, that it was a vulnerability they needed to protect, he said.

“In that moment, they clothe themselves. They understand the vulnerability of their nakedness. There is a fundamental human truth that we all have vulnerabilities we seek to protect at various points in our lives.”

Hughes’ second apple story starts with Kodak’s invention of flexible film, which triggered predictions in the press about the end of privacy. It also led to the first scholarly treatise on the right to privacy written by Louis Brandeis, who later served in the Supreme court. Brandeis argued that “as technologies emerge, the laws have to adapt and change,” Hughes said.

Concerns would flare up again with the invention of the telephone. Individual phone lines weren’t available, so people had to share so-called party lines. “Your neighbor down the road might be listening on the party wire, on the party line,” he said. “Technology was mediating technology again.”

The second apple story ends tragically with the suicide of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician, cryptanalyst and philosopher who is considered one of the fathers of modern computing. Turing had a secret to protect – he was gay. He was outed through an invasion of privacy.

In the 1950s, homosexuality was still a crime in Britain punishable by prison or chemical castration. Given the choice, Turing chose castration but later killed himself using what is believed to have been a poisoned apple. “We lost one of the greatest minds of the 20th century because of an invasion of privacy and the reaction to an injustice that was done,” Hughes said.

Digital Apple

The third apple story starts with a different kind of apple – Apple’s invention of the smartphone. It continues with the introduction of social media and advanced technologies such as facial recognition and the Internet of Things.

All of these advances have profound privacy implications. Because technology changes now occur at such a fast rate, they create new risks and inhibit our abilities to respond and adapt.

Hughes said cybersecurity professionals play a critical role in protecting privacy. Cybersecurity practitioners can help extract the best aspects of new technologies to ensure they serve us and are used to “make our lives better.”


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