Monthly Archives: October 2016

Have fewer secrets

Summary:  the trend toward less information security is irreversible.  The best response for democracies, and their constituents, is simply to have fewer secrets.  Doing so would reveal a hidden advantage of democracies over autocracies.

Recent privacy-related embarrassments — Clinton campaign email leaks, Trump video, Wikileaks, Snowden, Russian disinformation campaigns, and private fundraising speeches leaked to the public  — are all manifestations of one simple asymmetry.

Stealing digital information is vastly cheaper than protecting it.  The feds can spend billions on security, yet remain vulnerable to a single whistleblower or foreign agent posting gigabytes of secrets with little effort.  This will not change;  in fact, the asymmetry is growing.

People born before 1965 have trouble accepting this is an irreversible new normal, enforced by the economic and technological landscape.  The Clinton/Trump generation, aged about 70, simply fails to grasp it, dumbly shocked again and again with each new leak, flailing wildly, throwing more and more resources at trying to restore a secrecy that can no longer exist.

For democracies, though, this is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Embracing a lack of privacy exposes the strengths of democracies, and the weaknesses of autocratic leaders, who cannot follow suit without losing power.

Instead of doubling down on secrecy, as Clinton, Comey and other people born before 1965 keep doing to their detriment, we should go the opposite direction:  government could communicate mainly by Twitter or Slack, making communications as public as possible.

This leaves Russia and China with far fewer useful hack targets, and enforces good behavior within our own government.

At the same time, it renders the governments of Russia and China nakedly vulnerable.  Imagine if the U.S. announced it will acquire and leak all the internal government communications of any nation that employs information attacks against the U.S.  Authoritarian nations have no counter-move to this.  We can survive publicity.  They can’t.  It’s a weakness that can be exploited.

Under this plan, fixing Twitter becomes important.  But it could be improved with greater openness.  For example, what if it cost a flat rate of 50 cents per year to have permission to tweet?  Not per tweet, just a flat 50 cents a year.  And only one Twitter account allowed per credit card.  Twitter would then have a valid billing address for anyone tweeting.  Trolls, bots, Russian intel, terrorist recruiting, and most fraud would become much harder.  Twitter would be smaller, but more civil and more reliable.  Openness wins again.