Tales From Decrypt

By now you have all heard of the DOJ’s effort to force Apple to unlock a phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack. Here again we have an example of technology advancing far too quickly for our sluggish political institutions to keep up.

Codes and ciphers are as old as writing. What is new, obviously, is that people anywhere on Earth can now write to other, on portable devices, with zero latency, zero cost, and virtually no physical footprint.

Governments like to snoop. Governments are not always benevolent. When they are not, snooping is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

People like privacy. They believe their personal communications should be nobody’s business but their own. Moreover, they know that governments like to snoop.

Governments have the job of protecting public order. This is easiest in organically ordered societies, but the West is no longer an amalgam of organically ordered societies; it has been consciously and deliberately disordered for many decades. It is now a chaotic place, deeply infected with human pathogens that seek to cause it harm.

Human pathogens like privacy, too. It makes their work easier and more efficient. Attentive citizens of the West understand this. If they are sufficiently intelligent and attentive, though, they are also beginning to understand that the societies they live in have been deliberately disordered and weakened by their rulers. More and more of the people of the West are coming to realize that for some reason their own governments, like the pathogens those governments have opened the doors to, apparently also intend to cause them harm. (How else to explain, for example, what has happened to Europe?)

This means that their governments cannot rationally be understood as wholly “benevolent”. And when governments are not benevolent, snooping — on their own citizens — is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

So, the citizens are in what is sometimes called a “cleft stick”. Should they empower their governments to snoop, knowing that the government cannot be counted on to act benevolently toward them? Or should they resist, knowing that this will empower the pathogens now at large within their social organism?

My own feeling is that, death-by-government having had a vastly higher body count over the past century or so than even the bloodiest wars (and astronomically higher than any act of terrorism), we should choose to protect our privacy. Just in case.

Here’s one way to do that.

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15 Comments

  1. Seems like a great idea. What’s been your experience with this app?

    Posted March 13, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I have none yet. Just got it.

    Another typo in the title of a post! (Fixed now.) I’m really slipping.

    Posted March 13, 2016 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Just got it, too. Wanna test it? (Use email for ID if you do).

    Typos could be age-related:) Or fat fingers.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 1:20 am | Permalink
  4. JK says

    https://ricochet.com/the-encryption-debate-and-my-bank-password/

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 5:52 am | Permalink
  5. Whitewall says

    Typos could be age-related:) Or fat fingers.” Or a case of 60itis.

    People wonder if government is trying to protect people from bad people, or protect government from an increasingly aroused and informed public. Distrust rules the day and concealed carry permits are rising fast. There is no answer except more of the same.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 7:03 am | Permalink
  6. My own feeling is that, death-by-government having had a vastly higher body count over the past century or so than even the bloodiest wars (and astronomically higher than any act of terrorism), we should choose to protect our privacy. Just in case.

    If you exclude the outliers, the toll falls dramatically. Apple should relinquish the codes, given the omnipresent issue of Islamic terrorism and the gravity of the situation.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink
  7. JK says

    People wonder if government is trying to protect people from bad people, or protect government from an increasingly aroused and informed public.

    http://www.redstate.com/setonmotley/2016/03/14/many-washington-dc-drowning-lake/

    ***

    Grey Enlightenment,

    Personally I’m ambivalent where the San Berdino Nutter’s phone is concerned. As I understand it, the phone was provided to the nutter by a government entity, the local municipality where the Islamo-Crime took place so … my off-the-cuff-opinion would be that the contents ought be FOIAble … (cue Hillary).

    Then again … as GW clearly enunciated, “We will not allow the terrorists to change us from our guiding principles” (leaving aside that it would appear passage of The Patriot Act did just that).

    So. As the municipal government concerned should have recognized the clearly foreseeable consequences of providing its employees the means to do; I think the weight of Malcolm’s *feeling* is the proper way to go.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  8. JK says

    http://ideas.ted.com/6-reasons-to-be-on-apples-side-in-its-fight-against-the-fbi/

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Grey E.,

    If you exclude the outliers, the toll falls dramatically. Apple should relinquish the codes, given the omnipresent issue of Islamic terrorism and the gravity of the situation.

    Why on Earth should we exclude the “outliers”? They represent hundreds of millions dead, more than died in all the past century’s wars. By far the biggest single cause of death in the 20th century was actions that the world’s most powerful governments took against their own people. Is the U.S. not the home of a powerful government?

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  10. Dedicating Ruckus says

    While having no contention with the rest of the post provided, I should note that it seems the consensus of cryptographic experts is that Telegram is very bad (see for instance here, here or here).

    Probably the worst issue is that the protocol (by design?) has absolutely no security against man-in-the-middle attacks by the Telegram servers themselves. Thus, anyone who can control or compromise those servers — certainly potentially including the FBI — can read and maliciously alter conversations which take place while the compromise is active, even in their “most-secure” client-to-client mode. I would emphatically de-recommend Telegram to anyone who wants even the slightest security against national governments or entities with similar resources.

    As an alternative, there’s Signal, which seems to be mostly equivalent in functionality but strictly superior in security. Or for more decentralization, you could use one of the many OTR-enabled programs, such as ChatSecure.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Is that right, DR? I had only just heard of Telegram earlier yesterday; in part it was hearing about it that prompted me to write this post.

    If, as you say, there are better private messaging systems out there, that’s good to know. I thank you for doing the homework I didn’t do.

    I’ve been a programmer for about 15 years; I took it up when changes in the recording industry started cutting into my income. (I had two kids headed for college, and I thought if I learned C++ I could make a very good living at it, which turned out to be true.)

    One of my first tasks as a programmer was to design a peer-to-peer instant-messaging system (I did it using the BEEP and APEX protocols.) Maybe I should dig up that code; peer-to-peer has a lot of advantages.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  12. Dedicating Ruckus says

    I personally rather like IRC plus OTR, with DCC chat for high-security options. It’s not wholly peer-to-peer, but the abundance of large IRC networks and the ephemerality of IRC identities makes it very convenient as a surreptitious means of establishing contact. Actual conversations can then be routed away from the servers using DCC.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t support encrypted group chat. That’s one advantage of Signal et al; however, they become tied to one central server, which is always vulnerable to DOS if nothing else. It seems as if the current state of available software is not ideal.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  13. Excluding justifiable homicides by law enforcement, death penalty, and soldiers who by their own choosing gave their lives in the Iraq war (maybe this could be counted as a government-assisted death), Islamic terrorism has claimed more lives than government malice. Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature argues that governments have gotten ‘better’ at not killing their own people. of course, that can change.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    GE,

    Excluding justifiable homicides by law enforcement, death penalty, and soldiers who by their own choosing gave their lives in the Iraq war (maybe this could be counted as a government-assisted death), Islamic terrorism has claimed more lives than government malice.

    I’m not talking about the U.S. (although we could have a lively conversation about that, too).

    If your point is that “it can’t happen here”, we disagree. It can happen anywhere. As you say, things can change, and sometimes very quickly.

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    DR,

    Time for us to write some code, then!

    Posted March 14, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink