Loose Lips Spoiler Alert: If you truly believe Big Brother is there to Protect and Serve your best interests perhaps you’d best find a safe haven elsewhere this week.
Eddie Snowden blew the lid off national security some time back by putting our government’s dirty laundry on display for all the world to see. Now I’m not entirely sure if that was a good thing. NSA used to be my old stomping grounds and I have a secret love for the furtive machinations that accompany the valiant quest for a safer America by eavesdropping on the private conversations of her citizens. From a purely technical point of view the sheer bulk of data that has to be scanned before winnowing out a word or two that scream “Danger Will Robinson!” is daunting to say the least. Never mind moral issues.
Now our government is seriously miffed by Silicon Valley’s latest attempts to thwart this noble security-centric mission through the scurrilous encryption of those communications, making it ever more difficult to ferret out those keywords or phrases that suggest the smoking gun. Officials in DC have appealed to Silicon Valley executives to provide them a front door to the encryption process so they can do their nefarious snooping before the encryption process begins. And they promise, hands on hearts, they won’t abuse the privilege.
At one point in time messages and emails went out pretty much in the clear enclosed by routing packets that showed origin and destination as well as the text of the messages. Then some privacy freak decided he didn’t want to share his confidential information with the entire world (go figure!) so the service providers began to take measures to alleviate this schnook’s paranoia.
Along comes a guy with the unlikely nom de Pocket Protector of Moxie Marlinspike who crafted a marvelous encryption scheme that defies cracking. Encryption is like making sausage. You grind up a bunch of pork and various other ingredients and stuff the result into a package so nobody can tell what they originally looked like or where they came from. The key is getting the sausage from the farm to the store and then recreating the original hog. That’s the decryption process. Moxie apparently made it work to the extent that many of Silicon Valley’s finest made his solution an integral part of their text and messaging protocols.
Aside from the obvious issue of invasion of privacy my problem with the national security argument is who’s in charge of choosing the words or phrases they’re looking for? Is it “Death to the Capitalist Pigs?” Or could it even be “I Think the Issue of Abortion should be a Woman’s Choice.” Or even “I Think the Police in this Community are Using Far Too Much Force.” It’s a slippery slope and I don’t think we want to tumble down it.