The time is ripe for new encryption technology that stays one step ahead of the National Security Agency and individual hackers.
Apple's release of the Apple Watch and iPhone6 makes it clear that Silicon Valley's future will be directly tied to its ability to protect tech users' privacy.
Securing Americans' personal information in an increasingly tech-dominated world has to be a higher priority for tech leaders and the valley's congressional and legislative delegations. Their failures up to now have left them, shall we say, exposed to the point of embarrassment.
The confidence Apple executives expressed in their ability to protect customers' private information would be more believable if the whole world hadn't just seen nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities courtesy of hackers who broke into supposedly secure private Apple accounts. Whether this was because of user error, Apple's shortcomings or both makes little difference to those considering whether to buy new products to use doing business or communicating online. Customers want to know their private information will be seen only by those they intend to see it, not vulnerable to hackers and government snoops. As lack of security becomes more apparent, enthusiasm for technology will erode.
The Apple Watch is not just a wearable tech device. It can make payments for products with the flick of a wrist and the touch of a thumbprint. The device's health care technology means users' most private medical information will be available at a moment's notice. It's important to know to whom it will be available.
But there is potential here for greater security. The use of a thumbprint to secure payment means the Apple Watch does not have to store credit card numbers, which are vulnerable to thieves. The Apple Pay system could make credit cards are as outdated as an eight-track player. (If you're younger than 30, Google it.)
Apple executives also have forbidden app developers from storing any medical information on cloud computing servers or selling individual users' medical information. The goal is to encrypt these records so that only users will control who sees them and how they are used.
Americans have to be confident that their financial and medical information is secure online or they will opt out of the new technology. The time is ripe for new encryption technology that stays one step ahead of the National Security Agency and individual hackers. Lawmakers in Sacramento and, if they can agree on anything, Washington should pass laws forbidding the use of personal financial or medical information without specific user approval. The public may think that's a no-brainer, but app developers make millions from collecting and selling data about people's habits.
Sixty years ago, about the time CBS News first used a UNIVAC to collect voter data and make election predictions, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas offered up this wisdom: "The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom."
That should be the valley's motto as it works to improve security and keep itself on top of the business world.
©2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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