Friday, March 11, 2016

Not Wrong, but Not on the Right Page

So Obama was hanging out at SXSW, and has this to say, re the current smartphone encryption debate:

To summarize the article, the salient point are in these quotes, imho:
"The question we now have to ask is, if technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system, where the encryption is so strong there’s no key, there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?" Obama said. "If in fact you can’t crack that at all, government can’t get in, then everybody’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket." 
Compromise is possible, he said, and the technology industry must help design it. 
"I suspect the answer is going to come down to, how do we create a system that, encryption is as strong as possible, the key is secure as possible, and it is accessible by the smallest number of people possible for the subset of issues that we agree is important," he said.
 Now, notwithstanding the canned government appeal to "think of the children" and "terrorism" (which, generally speaking, should probably invalidate any argument a priori, given the Constitutional abuse which usually accompanies these phrases, especially of late), he's not wrong in the abstract. The government should, with the right safeguards, potentially have methods to get at data which would be crucial to protecting the people. The problem, in this case, is where the abstract meets the reality, and the government craps on everything.

Fundamentally, it's really an issue of trust. In order to be comfortable with a system where the government can get people's private information, you need trust: trust in the system which protects your rights, trust in the government to not abuse its access, trust in the oversight to catch and dissuade abuses, etc. Without trust, you can't have compromise or solutions, because you know that giving an inch implicitly means giving a mile, and while you might be comfortable giving several feet, you don't want the government taking everything.

And that's where Obama is still on the wrong page entirely. The problem, such as it is, is not that the tech companies are unwilling to work with the government, and (to a reasonable, although depressingly not universal, level) the people are not willing to give up their rights as Obama would like. Those are the symptoms of the problem, which is that the government has profoundly (and repeatedly) worked to destroy any trust which might have existed in its ability to enforce (or even respect) any of the controls and limitations enumerated above. Without that trust, it's not only natural, but entirely proper that the people should be fighting back against the ever-growing encroachment of government surveillance, with every tool that they have. The abstract ideal, in this case, has been shit all over by the reality of the government's actions.

So how would you cut this Gordian knot? Well, first you would need to get on the right page; in this case, start by working to address the trust problem. Make no mistake: that will take years, in an optimal scenario. The government could start, for example, by pardoning Snowden unilaterally, bringing him home, and giving him an f-ing medal for sacrificing more to defend the Constitution than all of the government scumbags collectively put together. Then, start work on fixing the problems that Snowden brought to light, and working to rebuild the trust the government shouldn't have ever lost in the first place.

Step two: get some credibility into your protection process. Nobody believes that the government is able to regulate themselves, with secret kangaroo courts and secret "national security" letters. Involve trusted third parties to review warrant applications (eg: the ACLU), and while you're at it, re-familiarize yourself with actually getting warrants from real courts. And for f-sake, stop using "child pornography" and "national security" to justify every single unconstitutional BS rights violation you want to engage in. Here's a free clue: if you want the American people to mistrust you less, stop ignoring the laws and lying about it. Looking at you, Clapper et all.

Step three: get some accountability and penalties in place. Caught lying to Congress, Clapper? How about jail time. Lying to Congress, James Comey? Jail time... and we'll deal with the irony. Caught voting for or authorizing something which was clearly unconstitutional? Immediately removed from public office, loss of all benefits, and banned from serving on office ever again. You can't just expect everyone in government to follow the rules, if breaking them carries no consequences.

Anyway, that's my 2c on the matter, for whatever it's worth. I don't have much hope there will be any "clean" solution to the current fight, because while the government might have some valid points, until they get on the right page, they won't make much progress addressing the real problem... they will just continue to piss people off.

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