Garrett (garote) wrote,

Back doors and encryption

In physical communications, the level of personal privacy and ease of interception form an inverse relationship, and we all instinctively understand this. A shout is less private than a whisper. A wave in a crowd is less private than a touch on your shoulder. Skywriting is not at all private. An unvoiced thought is the most private of all.

These days we make personal communications on devices that operate on a level beyond the basic physical one we all know. We are also beyond the "very directed form of shouting" that the telephone and radio started out as, and into something else. These new devices are things that we use in ways that feel private - tapping silently on them with fingers, speaking into them behind closed doors, turning off the display when we're not looking at it - but that feeling of physical privacy is, of course, an illusion. Almost everything we do on the device relies on sending data over a wireless network that we cannot see, but reaches all the way around the Earth and up into space. That network also has a memory, extending back some unknown span of time into the past. Clearly the ease of interception may not match the level of privacy we instinctively expect.

The best tool we have (among many) to impose privacy on these devices, is encryption. We leverage encryption to make these communications secure the way we expect them to be, the way they often seem to be to novice users already. But by making these devices harder to tap into, are we also making a the world a more dangerous place?

The government is already allowed to force a phone company to tap into the communications of a person using its network, by convincing a judge that the act is necessary to pursue a case. End-to-end encryption of the content passing over the network denies them this ability. Should the government be allowed to sabotage end-to-end encryption? Can the government make a case that a truly secure communications network cannot be allowed to exist?

How does the argument change when the government wants to have access not just to real-time communications, but to a data store containing your movements, your financial records, private communication between you and your spouse, photographs and video of you and your family, and so on? This is the kind of back door that the government wants to carve into the smartphone of every citizen. Is it a natural extension of a wire tap, or is it an overreach?

Let's take it a step beyond. If a technology exists that provides selective access to the most private parts of your being, should you be denied the ability to completely control that access, for the sake of law enforcement?

Suppose that 50 years from now, we come up with a solid-state machine about the size of a peanut that can be surgically implanted in your skull, deriving all its power from blood flow or body movement or something, and it is able to detect your very thoughts, and transcribe them into signals and send them to the people of your choice. Suppose this device uses end-to-end encryption methods the way Apple uses them to encrypt its iMessage chat service now. The system, as designed, would be effectively impossible to tap by government officials, or criminals. It would be telepathy, made real. It would fundamentally change the human experience.

Our current society, collectively, would only go for a technology like this if it was extremely secure, and most of us wouldn't go for it at all. It's probably the idea of it being surgically attached that makes it the most scary. But we carry smartphones around all day, every day, and even sleep next to them at night, so how long before society changes, and a product like this goes from scary, to coveted?

Now suppose we all buy these devices, convinced of their security, and after we've been walking around with them for a number of years, the government demands changes to the software inside them to make them less secure, so they can tap directly into the minds of suspected criminals. Every device would be altered, including the one in your own head.

At that point, all it would take is one corrupt or sloppy government official leaking the toolkit onto the internet*, and your very thoughts - and no doubt the history of your thoughts - would be subject to eavesdropping, from foreign government agents, all the way down to jilted ex-boyfriends.

(* This has happened already, at least once, with government-owned router and smartphone hacking tools. )

Yes, it would be very convenient to tap into the brain of a suspected murderer or kidnapper or suicide bomber or warlord. Likewise it would be very convenient for them, to tap into everyone else. Imagine the hell they could create.

If your objections are ignored and the software is changed, what are you going to do? Your social and working life, even your identity, is thoroughly dependent on this device. It would be very hard to abandon. Plus, the device is surgically embedded. You might not even know for sure that it's off!

Let's look at this hypothetical situation from another angle: What if encryption wasn't an issue?

What if the battle over encryption was somehow rendered irrelevant, and the government could tap into anything, anywhere? Is there a level of privacy, a form of personal space, that is sacred enough that eavesdropping would be fundamentally wrong, even if the government could do it? Assuming it has the tech, should law enforcement be able to get a warrant to tap in to the thoughts of a private citizen without their knowledge, if they were a suspected terrorist? If so, what about passive surveillance? Should law enforcement be allowed to mass-harvest the thoughts of every citizen and crunch them for patterns, to root out suspected criminals and deviants, without any prior authorization such as a warrant?

The government is already engaged in mass-surveillance activities with internet data*, and fighting to weaken encryption in order to expand that surveillance. Have they already crossed the line of acceptability? How close to the ultimate privacy of an unvoiced thought will government surveillance be allowed to get before it is considered universally wrong?

(* e.g. PRISM. )

Or will we ever get to that point, if the transition happens slowly enough?

Or, what about the more insidious scenario: Will we voluntarily submit to this filtering and see it as "proof of innocence", and begin to assume that anyone who does not voluntarily submit is not trustworthy, and perhaps a criminal?
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There is a solution. Just to run away from all this. Somehow I'm sure that if you are a native Alaskan in a village, this will hardly touch you. As to what will happen 50 years from now, or 500 years from now... so far a bunch of pessimistic predictions have been very wrong.
Ooooh you can run, but you can't hide. ;)

Also just about every Alaskan village has a cell tower and satellite internet now, and all the decent-sized towns are wired to the point where they offer wireless internet in hotels and RV parks!
Wow, really? Have you been there? Have you seen those mostly abandoned villages? It's an emptiness, as I remember.


August 30 2016, 00:45:47 UTC 1 year ago Edited:  August 30 2016, 00:54:59 UTC

I went through there in 2004, before Ye Olde Smartphone Revolution, and there was still plenty of internet to be had.

Plenty of luddites too, of course. The most interesting encounter was with a half-drunk guy in Valdez who saw the GPS receiver stuck to the side of my van and concluded that I was some kind of terrorist planning an attack.


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1 year ago

yes, the the further we run, the closer we become to h.a.a.r.p...

"You can run, but you can't hide. We've got you covered.." - Google Maps

; )))


August 30 2016, 03:11:46 UTC 1 year ago Edited:  August 30 2016, 03:13:05 UTC

Where do you think all those cat pictures come from? Do you really think people intentionally post those for the whole world to see??
Speaking of cats, I'm really glad my cat doesn't have a psychic internet peanut. I think I might like her less if I really knew what she was thinking.
I bet you have a pretty darned accurate idea of what she's thinking anyway!!


August 30 2016, 05:09:09 UTC 1 year ago Edited:  August 30 2016, 05:17:15 UTC



So what made you write your first novel, "Whatever", about a computer programmer and his sexually frustrated friend?


I hadn’t seen any novel make the statement that entering the workforce was like entering the grave. That from then on, nothing happens and you have to pretend to be interested in your work. And, furthermore, that some people have a sex life and others don’t just because some are more attractive than others. I wanted to acknowledge that if people don’t have a sex life, it’s not for some moral reason, it’s just because they’re ugly. Once you’ve said it, it sounds obvious, but I wanted to say it.

-- Michel Houellebecq at The Paris Review (Fall 2010)

what the hack?

So, big brother has created this exclusive digital matrix that serves their interests, however, what about stuff off the grid, like a quiet corner of central park? or someone's secret life not displayed on twitter. can we learn to hack into real existence like a stalker of old? hacker, stalker, what's the difference? only the target, be it human or android.. hack a bank or someone's identity, or simply create a real relationship with another living person.. encryption or being cryptic is only required when we aren't being honest with someone or trying to hide our real thoughts, feelings or conditions. we spend so much time and energy trying to control data and complicate it for security purposes, windows 10 point in count which is a boat anchor now that it monitors every click and reports it back to big daddy. computers have always just been glorified typewriters to me, even when they deliver music and video, it is compressed and minimized to fit limited parameters. it lacks life and breadth or depth. compare to sound surround non digital full theater experience. watching movies on a cellphone.. is so laughable it hurts. similarly photos lack a quality of life that only a real experience and personal contact can provide. who the hack wants to hack into that?
Well the short answer would be, anyone who wants to make money without getting out of their chair. :D

Interesting quote about entering the workforce. I imagine it feels that way when people make no effort to match what they do for a living with what interests them. Sure, most people don't have a lot of choice, but anyone above blue-collar work at least, must have some degree of freedom.

I don't agree with the part of the quote about sex though. "Because they're ugly" actually has surprisingly little to do with having a sex life. "Because they're abrasive, selfish, and unobservant" has a lot more to do with it... But people don't like hearing that because it contradicts their belief that because they maintain their body to a certain standard, they therefore deserve to have sex with people who appear to match that standard.
short version, down to the short-hairs, i would say yes! absolutely.. not 'because they're ugly', that is just a projection by someone equally insecure in themselves, i would say moreso, fashionable or poor, there is more likely 'no accounting for taste'.. the word deserve also bothers me. it is more a matter of choice, you either want to or you don't or you are confused. i have been all three. sometimes i am very attracted to someone who could be labeled ugly by western media fashionista society standards. at the same time i find some of the new wave fashion also to be repulsive (to me). so what i hear you saying is that in the variety of fabric of people and focuses in society, it is a matter of personal choice or permission, depending which end of the stick you be at.))


damn those who grew up with a work ethic, equal day work for equal day pay.. lodged in the dirt.

money is abstract anyway, just like our beings.

btw, i like to get out of my chair and go for a walk in the park now and then..

long may you prosper!

thanks brother,
; )


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Not to add to the paranoia or anything, but every Intel chipset has a GPRS and 802.11 radio built in. It's always there and powered on, even in devices that don't have wireless data like tablets or desktop PCs. It's in the design specs, and with the right firmware you can twiddle the bit to turn it on and off, but nobody there seemed to have any idea what it was actually for. It's not directly accessible from the OS with production release firmware.

Illuminati confirmed.

Well. silicon is cheap...
Remember that furor back in the 90's over how Intel was putting a unique serial number into each Pentium chip, and how this would supposedly enable secure online commerce, and how critics claimed it was all about spying and destroying anonymity?

So much for all that. eh? :D

Hah hah yeah, soon every bit of every byte will have a government-mandated serial number stamped on it!
That creates an interesting recursion problem for the feds. :D