Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill said on Thursday she was “deeply worried” by “magical thinking” among law enforcement authorities caught up in a battle with Apple over encryption.
The commissioner spoke at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on a panel about the future of content.
“I am deeply worried about the magical thinking that I think is taking place among some in law enforcement that back doors can be created, that devices can be hacked into in a good way but not in a bad way,” she said, referring to the FBI’s bid to force Apple to help investigators unlock the iPhone used by a San Bernardino killer.
She continued: “Just to be clear, I’m not against law enforcement. I am law enforcement,” she said. “We need to be intelligent about this, we can’t approach it from the perspective of magical thinking.”
Rapid changes in technology and content are at the heart of conflicts like Apple’s battle over a locked terrorists iPhone and piracy’s threat to Hollywood, and they won’t be resolved anytime soon, women commissioners on Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission said at the breakfast, packed with about 100 influential women in DC.
The comment reflects the thorny nature of the problem facing the Obama administration balancing digital privacy with the need to protect the public from deadly threats.
For more than a month, gadget giant Apple has been fighting a federal court order that it help the FBI bypass measures locking investigators out of an iPhone used by one of the mass shooters in December’s San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack. The case has sparked a high-profile debate over protecting the digital privacy of consumers at large by encrypting their data and the law enforcement’s mandate to protect the public from deadly threats.
“Strong encryption makes us safe,” said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission. “This is just the start of a major conversation.”
Rosenworcel, a communications law expert with a decade and a half of public and private-sector experience, highlighted the how change has accelerated, comparing the 75 years it took the medium of radio to reach scale against the viral spread of things like casual-gaming hit Angry Birds, which did the same in 35 days.
“The ways we create distribute content are changing so fast,” she said. “That conflict isn’t going away anytime soon.”
Joining the panel discussion were women leaders from entertainment and technology: CreativeFuture CEO Ruth Vitale and Karen Appleton, senior vice president of industry alliances for online file sharing service Box and founder of Box.org.
Panelists discussed how these changes are making it more difficult to fight piracy of copyrighted materials.
Vitale said in its fight against piracy, Hollywood is the victim of two phenomena: The aura of celebrity that creates a perception of security from threat, and the industry’s own “movie magic” that makes its business seem so easy.
“Piracy is a problem and nobody seems to think it’s a big deal,” Vitale said. “When we’re here, we work with Congress to ask people to help educate the next generation of kids, who think if it’s on the Internet it must be OK” to watch, even if it’s pirated.
Box’s Appleton noted even the most secure technology can’t stop someone from going into a theater and recording a movie on their iPhone.
“Think about all of the data that is available, it’s hard for anyone to keep up, much less the government,” she said.
After expanding the Power Women Breakfast franchise to New York and San Francisco last year, TheWrap’s breakfast Thursday inaugurated the series in D.C., bringing together influential women of entertainment, media, technology, politics and brands in key cities to network and connect.
Brill, with decades of experience in consumer protection and antitrust issues, noted that despite the perspective of some in Silicon Valley that content should be provided to platforms free, the data on consumers that tech companies generate is monetizable content itself.
“What they’re doing is not charging dollars, they’re charging in terms of data,” she said.
TheWrap’s first D.C.-based Power Women Breakfast was a summit on important issues facing women leaders. Joining the hosts on stage were presenters Maureen Dowd, columnist for The New York Times; Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times; and Adrienne Elrod, director of strategic communications and surrogates for the Hillary for America Campaign.
The event was sponsored by Box, Okta, Personal Care Products Council, CreativeFuture, Discovery Communications and National Geographic Channels, and cohosted by Heather Podesta + Partners.