Saturday, January 18, 2014

E-spying Remedy?

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Like it or not, Edward Snowden surely stimulated debate and introspection on this vital issue.  I wrote in praise of the President's Commission report yesterday, but I don't think any of their recommendations will make much difference.

The thing easy to overlook is that the problem is not just political, moral, or philosophical.  It is a problem being created by and inflated by technology.  Today our primary worry is NSA.  But even if we restrain NSA, other governments could do the spying on us.  So could giant corporations like Google.  But technology marches on.  Your smart phone has 100,000 times more power than VAX computers in the 1980s that caused panic when their details were leaked to the Russians.  If the future, small governments, small companies, and even affluent individuals will all have the technical ability to do what NSA has been doing. Imagine spy devices smaller than dust mites and released into the atmosphere, so that they penetrate every room of building, every ventilator, and which gather information that all Internet users can view.  That's science fiction today but it won't be for long. It is less different than today's' smartphone is different from 1983's VAX.

We need to look beyond NSA, beyond our government, beyond the present for a real solution.

I thought long and hard about this problem and I concluded that the answer was transparency.  Congress should spy on NSA and citizens should spy on Congress to level the playing field. Nobody should try to turn the hands on the clock backward, but we should all embrace technology to achieve our goals. But then I read an essay by Bruce Schneier.  Bruce is a deep thinker.  His is one of the best intellects I've encountered in my life.  Bruce has a better answer.

First, Bruce identifies The Internet as the key to all these problems.  Non-electronic communications are hardly relevant in today's world.   Bruce says,

Our choice isn't between a digital world where the NSA can eavesdrop and one where the NSA is prevented from eavesdropping; it's between a digital world that is vulnerable to all attackers, and one that is secure for all users.
What we have today is vulnerable to all attackers, not just NSA but also thieves who steal credit card numbers from Target.  A net secure for all users means secure for NSA users, computers that secure our power grid, battered wives, protesters in China, and yes the computers of criminals and terrorists.  We must cease trying to make it secure for good guys, yet insecure for bad guys. That will never work.

Bruce's remedy is:
Securing the Internet requires both laws and technology. It requires Internet technology that secures data wherever it is and however it travels. It requires broad laws that put security ahead of both domestic and international surveillance. It requires additional technology to enforce those laws, and a worldwide enforcement regime to deal with bad actors. It's not easy, and has all the problems that other international issues have: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon non-proliferation; small arms trafficking; human trafficking; money laundering; intellectual property. Global information security and anti-surveillance needs to join those difficult global problems, so we can start making progress.

I bow to Bruce's superior intellect.

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