Personal Privacy Versus State Preservation in the Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

November 16, 2015, 6:26 PM UTC
Paris Turns Blue, White and Red For Victims Of Friday's Terrorist Attacks
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 16: The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in Red, White and Blue in honour of the victims of Friday's terrorist attacks on November 16, 2015 in Paris, France. Countries across Europe joined France today to observe a one minute-silence in an expression of solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attacks, which left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

This weekend’s Data Sheet newsletter originally dealt with the charges that prosecutors recently unveiled against three alleged cybercriminals linked to the hacking of J.P. Morgan Chase and others. Initially, the subject line read “casino/software/pharmaceutical cocktail,” as this week’s unsealed indictment described the suspects’ “sprawling criminal enterprise.” I’m scrapping that to discuss something else.

First: Our hearts go out to the citizens, the victims, the families of those affected by the terror attacks in Paris, France, on Friday. Such violence is—regardless of one’s ideology—unremittingly cruel, confusing, and costly.

This essay’s purpose is not to rehash the events of that evening. Follow the breaking news updates for that. Rather, it intends to call attention to the uncertain times in which we live. The forces of technology are reshaping human interaction, for better as well as for worse. (Though one’s classification often depends upon where one sits.)

The cybersecurity and data privacy challenges we are coping with today are an outgrowth of real world forces. Businesses, bureaucracies, and the battle-worn bodies of people everywhere are colliding and contending with as yet undetermined status quos. Hackers disrupt devices; thieves steal identities; spies surveil citizens; terrorists assail innocents; dissidents critique governments; advocates demand liberties.

Some commentators have described the Parisian attacks as France’s “September 11th,” a nod to the trigger event that sent the United States headlong into a radical rethinking of its security posture, and set in motion the policies that would define its coming years. Following that day, the so-called pendulum—as many observers describe the nation’s popular sentiment—swung from respect for personal privacy to a preference for state preservation. Edward Snowden’s revelations tipped the scales again. Recalibrations are ongoing.

The world has tough choices to make. No one knows the answers. But I hope you’ll join in the attempt to help figure them out. Cybersecurity, it should be noted, does not have solely to do with computers. Cybersecurity affects people. People who live and love and dread and dream. It is physical.

Next month, when Fortune’s offices move downtown, in the shadow of the World Trade Center as well as the ghosts that stood before it, it will become daily apparent in the newsroom why anyone should care about cybersecurity in the first place, or at all.

A version of this post titled “City of love” originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech-business newsletter. Subscribe here.

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