Life Tech

Five minutes

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.


Recently, FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke in a congressional hearing about end-to-end encryption and warned of the dangers that it presents to the Bureau’s efforts to fight crimes like child trafficking. You can watch a clip from his speech here: Twitter

In short, Director Wray is calling for Congress to pressure corporations and others to provide a “way to have legal access” to information requested by warrant or court order. He is leveraging examples of encrypted messages being used to arrange the sale and transfer of children in the sex trade. On the face, this sounds reasonable. It even sounds alarming that corporations are not currently forced to provide this access when the scary language related to trafficking of the innocent is juxtaposed. He assures a Congress, renowned for their lack of technological prowess, that this is not a “backdoor.” He says that the claim that the FBI wants a backdoor is a “myth” and an “urban legend.”

Now, I find that a lot of people do not understand what is meant (not to mention what’s at stake) when we talk about encryption. The type of encryption we are describing here is what is referred to as asymmetric encryption. That sounds super complicated (and it is) but for our purposes here it can be simplified. All encryption is simply jumbling up a message to keep the message private between two parties. In asymmetric encryption there is a special feature called a key pair. If, for example, you wanted me to send you private messages, you could create a key for only you called a private key. You would give me and anybody else another key called a public key. Now, I could use the public key to jumble my message such that the only person that could unjumble it is you, with your private key. If anyone else got the jumbled message (including others with the public key) they could not unjumble (or decrypt) the message. It is a one-way jumble, hence it is called “asymmetric.”

When you hear “end-to-end encryption” what is being described is the use of the jumbling method to protect a message from one user to another. For instance, if I send a text to you through iMessage on my iPhone, my phone encrypts the message and passes it to Apple. Apple passes the encrypted message along to your iPhone which decrypts it. In this scenario, Apple is not only unwilling to intercept and decrypt our protected message, they are unable to do so. That is a very important point.

Back to the matter at hand. I have tremendous respect for Director Wray and the Bureau. I also agree that the problem that he faces is very difficult. But what he is asking Congress to do is to have companies like Apple build a mechanism into the service that allows them to decrypt your messages while they are in transmission. In the above scenario, even though Apple could remain unwilling, they would be compelled by court order to decrypt our messages.

Tapping, monitoring, and inserting federal agents into private citizens’ lives is an old solution with a high collateral impact. Encryption is not the problem and requiring companies to breach end-to-end encryption is not the solution.

Unfortunately, Director Wrays is trying to solve the problem of encryption. The FBI has been trying to get ahead of (or at least catch up with) private encryption since its inception. In this case, it is my belief that child trafficking is part strawman and part dog-whistle. In the best case scenario that I can imagine, he is trying to appeal to the sense of justice in a technologically ignorant Congress while overlooking the disclosure that the FBI is already capable of compromising the security on the vast majority of smart phones on the market, assuming they are not properly updated. If this scenario (again, my best case) is true, what he is doing is negligent. More likely it is a continued authoritarian privacy-rights erosion for the sake of pseudo-security. That is, the abolition of your right to private communication in favor of easing the FBI’s access to the “bad guys.”


Patterns, God, Parents

I tend to see patterns. “This guy listens to a lot of Tom Petty,” I once said to my wife while listening to one band or another. She just stared at me stoically and eventually accused me of “always ruining bands” for her by drawing comparisons. This was a fair accusation; I do always do that. As a defensive side-note, these comparisons would not bother everyone, but are pretty explosive to one that identifies closely with an Enneagram four. Nevertheless, I see patterns. And have a tough time shutting up about it.

I believe in God. Now, I am wrestling out most of the specifics. How much of my faith requires that I believe in a literal this or a transfigured that or a manifestation of the other thing? I don’t know. “What you believe about God is the single most important aspect of who you are.” These were the words of a minister I knew once. They still shoot through my brain from time to time, as I am sure he intended them to. Their meaning has evolved over time, though. Initially meaning something akin to “your value it tied to your zeal for the Baptist god.” Lower “g” intentional. This definition of the minister’s statement, likely not what he intended, eroded and changed into what I currently hold as a truth. “You are shaped by the archetype at the top of your belief system.” Sinners in the hands of an angry God look for penance, but often feel justified to punish those that do wrong. Those who believe they can elicit divine intervention through prayers and acts of faith tend to blame their own internal corruptions on a trickster devil while taking – at least partial – credit for the perceived good in their life. From where I stand now, most of these outcomes seem to be due largely to our archetypal hierarchy. We become like the thing we pursue.

I am a parent. “It is terrible! You’ll love it!” This was the advice of a wonderful customer my wife and I served when we had just discovered our son was gestating in Hannah’s abdomen. It has proven to be completely true. Our kids wreck us. They constantly turn mirrors on our broken hearts and make us feel naked. They hurt us with their now eviscerating back talk. They break my soap bar in half. FOR FUN! Honestly. Who does that? But they also make me laugh from a well in my soul that I have not drunk from in decades. They inspire me to take better care of my body so I can keep up with their level of play until I’m busy one day with grandkids. But there is one sort of mixture of these extremes that has recently brought me to write this post. They reveal to me that I am capable of shouldering them with too much. Too much knowledge. Too much responsibility. Too stern a response. I have learned – painfully, slowly, and badly – to know my kids and give them enough. Enough to challenge them. Enough to interest, but not overwhelm. Enough to show them the boundaries.

And this is the point in the form of wondering out loud, but using your brain to do it. I wonder if the suffering and hardship we experience in life is not a means to allow us, generation after generation, to improve mankind until we are ready to be shouldered with the weight of “real life.” What if the end is not intended to be, as I was taught, an Earth destroyed in fire and built again? What if we are building the world now? One kindness on the previous one. One mercy after the next. What if our archetype was, in part, a good father that knows what we need in order to challenge us, interest us, and show us boundaries? I wonder is that minister was right and that “what you believe about God is the single most important aspect of who you are.”