Technology has made the impossible, possible. Every aspect of our lives as Americans, as humans, has been altered by the digital revolution. From medicine, to education, to war, technology has given citizens, government, and terrorists previously unimagined powers.
As Peter Parker’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility. Laws exist to preserve the rights enshrined in our Constitution. But technology has progressed far more than I believe our founders could ever have envisioned. And that is truly a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in us today, as it existed in our forefathers. But there is a lurking danger that calls into question the very fabric of our society and forces us as Congress to decide if we will heed the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin — “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Perhaps you think I’m being dramatic. Perhaps you reject the idea that our nation is at a defining moment. And that is your right. But if that’s the case, go ahead and pass your smartphone over to me. If you are anything like my 17 year old son, the very idea of giving your smartphone — your calendar, your bank, your correspondence, your pictures, your playlists — to a family member, much less a stranger, will cause you to recoil in horror. Our lives, our personal information, and our technological devices are so intertwined that according to recent surveys, many of us blame smartphones for difficulties in our love lives.
As our smartphones have become an extension, and reflection, of our lives, the national debate over consumers’ ability to protect the information stored on their phones has amplified in both volume and complexity. The laws governing who has access to our personal, digital information and communications were written when a cloud was exclusively a white, puffy thing that formed familiar shapes. Technology has far outpaced the law, and now law enforcement, business, courts, and Congress are all grappling with the implications.
The tragic events in San Bernardino, California, and the ensuing battle between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have made it abundantly clear that Congress, and Congress alone, must act to rewrite the laws governing the access to, and use of, our electronic communications. The need to balance security and liberty is not new. But the debate to find the proper balance belongs in the halls of Congress, not in a courtroom.
Our national security is critically important, and protecting this country is one of the primary reasons I came to Congress. As someone who has served with the Air Force in Iraq, I know the threats that America faces. I believe protecting this country means protecting her from enemies both foreign and domestic, but it also means protecting the ideals upon which she was founded. As the son of a state trooper, I have seen firsthand dedication of those in uniform who sacrifice day in and day out to keep our communities safe. But Benjamin Franklin was right — if we prioritize safety at the expense of privacy, then we will be safe, but not free.
In the case of Apple versus the FBI, it’s tempting to say that any and all evidence should be available and readable to law enforcement, including access to a device. But pause with me for a moment and think — this isn’t just about one smartphone. This isn’t just about one case. It’s about if the government can mandate weakened technological protections for one phone, for any phone. It’s about what the responsibility of technology companies is as it relates to law enforcement. It’s about if you can comprise the security and privacy of personal communications for law enforcement, without comprising them to hackers, foreign governments, and terrorists.
With great technological power, comes great legal responsibility. Congress exists for such a time as this — to debate the profound policy questions of today, recognizing our responsibility to protect both the civil liberties of Americans and the security of our nation. Congress must act, and it must act now.
Congressman Collins represents the Ninth District of Georgia. He serves on the Judiciary and Rules Committees.