Encryption, which makes our electronic communications secure, is only as good as three things: human nature, human nature, and human nature. After Edward Snowden leaked information about government surveillance on our citizenry, Congress amended the USA Freedom Act to end NSA’s bulk capture of data. Regrettably, it left doors open for other kinds of scrutiny, including domestic communications to foreign destinations. (Unhackable,”by Paul Wachter, Harper’s, May 2016, pg. 28.)
Despite their posturing, big tech firms aren’t any more keen on tight encryption than the government, especially when it interferes with their interest in commercial data gathering. Our biggest obstacle to security, however, is ourselves. Research shows people will choose the least secure procedures available to get on with their business, avoiding the hassle of complicated passwords and codes. (Ibid pg. 25)
In spite of our wanton ways, some techies insist upon protecting us. Two of them, Mike Janke and Ladar Levison, are about to market Dark Media Alliance, a new encryption system which is unique because it cloaks metadata as well as messages. As writer Paul Wachter explains, metadata is the header “that contains the identification of the sender and receiver, as well as the subject line and time stamp.” (Ibid pg. 23)
Dark Media Alliance may be a giant step forward for personal security but, like a colonoscopy which is good for us, encryption doesn’t make anyone happy. Not the government. Not commerce. And certainly not a majority of customers who’ve demonstrated they don’t care who knows what about them.
So where does all this spying and encrypting take us? In the end, it leads to more spying and more encrypting. At this point in the great tail chase, I begin to see two classes of people emerging. I don’t mean the haves and have-nots. I refer to the rift between those who understand the virtual world and are able to manipulate it and the rest of us who haven’t a clue. Could it be that the majority of us already live in a Matrix?