Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Government not great at spying

Government not great at spying

(My Clovis News Journal column for March 28, 2014)

Maybe Malaysia Airlines' missing flight 370 will have been found by the time this gets into print. Or maybe various officials are still saying "we know where it is... we just haven't physically seen it yet". Either way, I'm pretty sure the news won't be good for the families of those missing, whenever it turns up.

I have no doubt the mystery has a mundane explanation, whatever it may be, even if it turns out to be human malice- which is unfortunately common enough to be fairly mundane, and always has been.

The one and only bright spot in this whole tragedy is the observation that apparently the governments of the world don't have quite the inescapable spying, tracking, and surveillance capabilities they would like you and me to believe they have. Big things can escape their notice and slip through their fingers.

Yes, the world is a very large place, and the plane vanished over an area that isn't exactly as populated as downtown Tokyo or New York City, but electronic communications signals aren't as limited by geography and distance as human eyes are; being routed, as they are, through a web of networks which are all interconnected. Yet, the plane- a huge Boeing 777- has been missing, assuming it hasn't yet been found, since March 8. That's about 3 weeks now.

If a whole plane full of people can disappear, even for a few weeks, perhaps you don't need to be as worried about useful information being stolen from your data as you might have thought.

It's still a good idea to refrain from using unencrypted electronic communications to send messages that would make spies and their handlers twitchy and give them reason to watch you more closely. But that has been the case throughout history. Nothing has really changed there.

The more data the snoops collect, the less likely they are to find that elusive needle in a haystack. The more they analyze, the more false "pings" they will encounter, the more dross they'll have to sift through, and the more time and computer power they'll waste. That's why you should always say things such as "She's the BOMB!, or "When did ANTHRAX become 'classic rock'?" Or "My boss went NUCLEAR when I showed up for work in my pajamas!" in your phone conversations, emails, and text messages.

Don't be stupid, but don't spend your limited lifetime worried that the bad guys are reading all your emails. And, if you want to be found in an emergency, remember it is ultimately up to you to make sure you can be.

Conservatives and Progressives are right

Conservatives (real conservatives, not neocons) are right about something- there are things in our society and culture which should be conserved. Worship of the military and police, and prohibition are not examples of those things.

Progressives (who used to be called "liberals", but never lived up to the label) are right about something, too- there are many ways in which "society" is in desperate need of some progress. However, violating liberty just because you are afraid of regular people owning and carrying guns is the opposite of progress. As is thinking it is "generous" to give away other people's property, and making up "special rules" by which some people are given "extra rights" that place imaginary obligations on others.

If both of those sides could get past some of their misguided delusions, they could contribute so much to life.