When Technology and Society Outpace the Law

Written by John Shinal, Special for USA TODAY  twitterlogotransparent

4:41 p.m. EST March 1, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — The FBI-Apple encryption battle is just the beginning of an important debate this country needs to have about what to do when U.S. innovation outpaces American law.

The FBI’s failure to get data it wanted from an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists — despite significant help from Apple — shows that time has arrived once again.

As with the coming of the telephone, the car, the radio and TV, the spread of the mobile Internet has gotten ahead of case law.

In this case, with hand-held smartphones now ubiquitous, a consumer technology has outstripped the ability of the government to complete an important terrorist investigation.

Given the pace of development in the tech industry — especially in machine learning and artificial intelligence — hardware and software likely will soon outstrip the law in other areas, too.

On Monday, the day before Apple and the FBI were scheduled to give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, a traffic accident occurred in Mountain View, Calif.

Deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of Google’s automated cars went exactly where the sophisticated algorithm controlling it pointed: To the left of a line of traffic cones.

That driving decision was based on an assumption that an oncoming bus would let the Lexus with the big software brain through the detour.