Pwnd Again: Don’t Trust These Jokers With Your Information

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There’s an old television trope — I’m not sure where it originated — in which a shady-looking character walks up to a group, flashes open his trenchcoat to reveal a bunch of cheap (and presumably stolen) timepieces, and asks “anyone wanna buy a watch?” That image springs to mind every time I hear it suggested that Americans should trust the security and confidentiality of their personal information or critical data to the US government.

The latest:  The US Office of Personnel Management now acknowledges that hackers (allegedly from China, but who knows?) who compromised the government records of more than 22 million individuals got away with the fingerprints of 5.6 million federal employees rather than the mere 1.1 million OPM earlier admitted to.

The US government can’t seem to keep a secret.

Sometimes that’s a good thing, as when a Chelsea Manning or an Edward Snowden exposes war crimes and other abusive and illegal state behavior.

Sometimes it may be a bad thing, as when the immediate past US Secretary of State illegally transmits classified information through, and stores that information on, a private server and apparently entrusts maintenance of that server to people who don’t even know how to delete files and make them unrecoverable.

I say that “may” be a bad thing, because Hillary Clinton’s ineptitude in data security may be better in the long run to the extent that it ends up exposing additional crimes on her part and on the part of other government functionaries. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t deserve the privacy they routinely attempt to deny the rest of us.

There’s a word for people who trust their data security to screwups like president Barack Obama, would-be presidents Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and other politicians and bureaucrats.

That word is “naive.”

When it comes to your data and personal information, the US government seems to possess two operating modes: Gathering your information by every means fair and foul, whether you want them to have it or not on one hand, and leaving it lying around unsecured for every bad actor on Earth to copy at will on the other.

The tools you need to secure your data from bad actors — including the very politicians who falsely promise to secure it FOR you — are widely and freely available. Stop trusting and start encrypting.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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  • JdL

    Good advice, certainly. But of course, you have no way of keeping some information, such as your social security number, secret from the government. I’m guessing there’s also no way of keeping your bank account records, credit card information, medical records, or other pieces of personal information away from the government. The one exception is information you have never shared with anybody, which can be encrypted. Even then, with some effort the government can sniff out everything you do, at least if you’re connected to the Internet.

    I’m not recommending being sloppy; quite the contrary. By all means be as careful as you reasonably can, with the knowledge that the best we can do is make it harder for them.

    • JdL,

      Yep, all of that is true, and once again I had trouble communicating with precision in the word count limit I set for myself.

      Obviously the state already has access to a lot of our information, and is positioned to have more of it any time it wants (e.g. any time we open a new bank account or whatever).

      From a policy standpoint, what I’m recommending is resisting new proposals for “letting the state see to our cybersecurity and the protection of our data.”

      Every time some politician proposes something for that alleged purpose and it gets implemented, we end up with less privacy and less data security than before.

      I would like to see people both resisting new incursions of that type at the policy level, and simultaneously and preemptively making them impossible to implement at the personal level.

      For example, the existing banking system is already hopelessly compromised vis a vis the state, but there are crypto-currency systems which are not, and it’s a good idea to make it as difficult as possible for the state to compromise them even if it attempts to do so.