By Fred Reed
I read that Apple and Google have begun encrypting the data of customers so that nobody, including Apple and Google, have plaintext access to it. This of course means “so that the government will not have access to it.” The FBI is terribly upset about this, the first serious resistance against onrushing Orwellianism. God bless Apple and Google. But will they be able to stand up to the feds?
Here is a curious situation indeed. The government has become our enemy, out of control, and we have to depend on computer companies for any safety we may have.
NSA spies on us illegally and in detail, recording telephone conversations, reading email, recording our financial transactions, on and on. TSA makes air travel a nightmare, forcing us to hop about barefoot and confiscating toothpaste. The police kick in our doors at night on no-knock raids and shoot our dogs. In bus stations we are subject to search without probable cause. The feds track us through our cell phones. Laws make it a crime to photograph the police, an out-and-out totalitarian step: Cockroaches do not like light. The feds give police forces across the country weaponry normal to militaries. Whatever the intention, it is the hardware of control of dissent. Think Tian An Men Square in China.
And we have no recourse. If you resist, you go to jail, maybe not for long, not yet anyway, but jail is jail. Object to TSA and you miss your flight. They know it and use it. The courts do nothing about this. They too are feds.
Fools say, “If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.” This might be true, or partly true, or sometimes true, or occasionally plausible, if government were benevolent. It isn’t.
The feds—whatever the intention of individuals—are setting up the machinery of a totalitarianism beyond anything yet known on the earth. It falls rapidly into place. You can argue, if you are optimistic enough to make Pollyanna look like a Schopenhaurian gloom-monger, that they would never use such powers. They already do. The only question is how far they will push. What cannot be argued is that they have the powers
Which means that if they decide in a few years, or tomorrow, to crack down on “hate speech,” and then on speech that they say they think might suggest terroristic links, and then on anti-American speech as defined by them (does anyone remember HUAC?), they will have the tools.
The mere knowledge that one is watched, or may be being watches, is enough to subvert political freedom. Already journalists have to assume that their communications are intercepted, and sources, assuming the same thing, stop being sources.
We are in the cross-hairs and what happens in the next very few years will determine in what direction we go. And when we have to depend on commercial companies like Apple and Google to protect us from our government, things are bad.
The FBI wants a “back door” in the encryption used by our telephones, so that it can spy on us—for our own good, you see, for our own good. Uh-huh. Of course if the government has a back door, others can find it.
The crucial question: Do we have more to fear from largely imaginary terrorists, or from the FBI? Your chances of being killed by terrorists are essentially zero, even if you live in Washington or New York, and far less if you live in Memphis or Raleigh-Durham. (To express this we need the concept of negative zero, which I hearwith offer to the mathmatical community.) Your chances of living in an electronically locked-down police state are very high. This is far more dangerous to what the United States was than even a successful bombing of a mall.
What goes through the minds of those who are doing this to us? In my former guise as a police reporter I knew a few FBI types. They were pathologically normal, smelled of too much soap and wholesomeness, resembled armed accountants with the other-worldly assurance of scientologists. They were deeply convinced that they were the Angels Gabriel protecting us from whatever, including ourselves—and they were as intellectual as colonels, which is to say as intellectual as fire plugs. In particular, they did not think in terms of constitutional liberties. Since their intentions were good, they figured that nobody should interfere with them. And they were on a power trip, as we used to say.
Those at the policy level are another thing. Many are intelligent, some extremely so. They understand not just the laws, but law. Many have educations of the first quality. Harvard was not always a prep school for I-banking. They are familiar with history, understand the philosophy of constitutional government, and understand the consequences of our current direction. They know what they are doing. And keep doing it.
Why? Partly because they are screened to be as they are. Just as the military attracts highly aggressive men, who then want a war in which to use their training (would Tiger Woods practice his golf swing for a lifetime without wanting to be in a tournament?) politics attracts and favors the unprincipled and manipulative. It is a playground for psychopaths, for the charmingly conscienceless, for the utterly self-concerned. These now rule us.
This is obvious. Yet in the past there were sometimes men who understood that, to maintain a constitutional democracy, you have to pay the price of allowing freedom. They, and the courts, actually defended the right of people to say things that the government and its client groups did not like. They saw the danger of trying to control every aspect of everyone’s life. Today? Neither the courts, nor the Supreme Court, nor the President, nor the Congress, nor the military, nor the intelligence agencies shows any sign of wanting to rein in the abuses. It’s Apple and Google or nothing, and the government will threaten them with everything short of beheading. Maybe short of beheading.
For an expert, readable, and non-technical explanation of just how secure your data aren't, read The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security. For the best (so far as I know) but fairly technical website on computer security, Schneir on Security and subscribe, for free, to his Crypto-Gram.