Parsing One's Privacy @urkomasse

Over the last week or so, @urkomasse and I have had a twitter conversation. In it, he gently takes me to task for advocating the use of iPads in schools. The main critique is that Apple, unlike Android, is probably "in bed" with the National Security Agency (NSA).

Worse, encouraging the use of iPads among children makes them more susceptible the spectre of "trusted computing," a term I've often used in reference to Windows computers and for which I must rely on Richard Stallman (of GNU fame) to define clearly in Can You Trust Your Computer?
Who should your computer take its orders from? Most people think their computers should obey them, not obey someone else. With a plan they call “trusted computing”, large media corporations (including the movie companies and record companies), together with computer companies such as Microsoft and Intel, are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you. (Microsoft's version of this scheme is called Palladium.) Proprietary programs have included malicious features before, but this plan would make it universal.
And, I can't help but agree with this blog entry:
now hundreds of millions of dollars later we can safely say that your electronic devices do not belong to you anymore. Any email, chat, phone conversation you have made in the last few years is probably stored somewhere in a datacenter belonging to the NSA.
And any data-analyst could -as easily as you- get into your computer if you are a “person of interest” browsing your files, passwords and financial details so that they could paint you in the image of the villain they want in a court –or elsewhere-. (Source: Is Cryptography a lost fight?)
Stallman was right, eh? Well, it's clear that it's not just Windows computers we have to fear anymore is it? It's actually every computing device on the planet, from the now defunct Blackberry which prided itself on security to the Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, every proprietary operating system made (e.g. Windows, Mac), to company-owned encryption program. In fact, trust and computing don't go together if you expect to protect your privacy.
The NSA tackled the issue at the same speed with which the devices changed user behavior. According to the documents, it set up task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems. Specialized teams began intensively studying Apple's iPhone and its iOS operating system, as well as Google's Android mobile operating system. Another team worked on ways to attack BlackBerry, which had been seen as an impregnable fortress until then. (Source: How the NSA Spies on Smartphones)
Privacy, as we know, is dead. But as someone said, human beings still crave privacy, whether it's privacy while we're in the restroom with the door locked (watch out for that hidden camera!) or in a forest beneath a canopy in a leafy paradise (watch out for the drone!). But privacy on your computers, your tablets? Forget about it.

Big Brother is watching, spying, recording, all with the approval of the current Administration (and past ones, too) with our elected representatives either too ignorant, blind, or callous to care. But back to @urkomasse's point. Should we be using trusted computing devices in schools? Should we be advocating their use?

Well, if the top priority is to teach for privacy protection clause of digital citizenship, uh, no. But that's NOT the top priority. When I pick up my iPad, I'm set to read rabble-rousing articles on writing workshop facilitation, encryption tools, technology management, instructional coaching and leadership. Do I care if anyone reads along? Not at all; in fact, I work hard to share what I'm doing. I don't trust my iPad because I know that "Big Brother" is watching.
The NSA’s actions are making us all less safe. They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state.
We’re not there yet, but already we’ve learned that both the DEA and the IRS use NSA surveillance data in prosecutions and then lie about it in court. Power without accountability or oversight is dangerous to society at a very fundamental level. (Source: Bruce Schneier)

In fact, I don't trust ANY of the computers I use except those I've reformatted, and then loaded my preferred free open source software GNU/Linux distribution. If I wanted to really be protected, I'd never plug that machine into the network. And, I'd take advantage of all the encryption.

Unfortunately, I live in the world. I have to connect to the Internet for my job, my livelihood, and I have to use iPads (aww shucks). While Android offers many opportunities for increased security, it would be foolish to trust such a buggy system that varies from one device to another. In truth, my Android phone transmits my location to anyone who cares, I suspect it can be hacked quite easily. So, I suppose, there's only one way to do look at this:

Public Tech:
My phone calls, Work equipment, iPad, Android Phone - All these devices are public and accessible to the Government. My only goal is to safeguard them--and any confidential data on them--from identity thieves and malware/virus creators that seek to compromise the security of those devices. Yes, the Government is party to that hacking since they've weakened security overall, but what can I do? Stop using them? That's what makes the NSA so insidious and evil (no offense guys, I know you're doing your best to protect America from internal/external terrorists...tell me more about the Star Trek bridge chair at NSA HQ, though):
Source: The Guardian
But...wait...if you're sitting in the Star Trek chair, NSA, does that make Americans...Romulans/Klingons/undesirables of the Federation? That's harsh. No, you're more like the Borg, where everything must be assimilated. Or, worse, like the evil captain (Captain Ransom) from the U.S.S. Equinox who sacrifices Federation principles he's sworn to uphold to get the ship home from the Delta Quadrant (unlike Captain Janeway on Voyager), rewriting ethical subroutines on the computer programs meant to aid them:

Yes, that does look more appropriate.

Private Tech:
My non-connected, FOSS-loving equipment that's encrypted. Of course, what the heck am I encrypting? Not much since I work in K-12 education, I don't have anything that's top secret. My goal is simply to protect against identity theft and my hobby is encryption software, etc. After all, some day, I'm going to write that espionage novel like the ones I've read since I was 13 years old.

I have to come back to this quote from Bruce Schneier, responding to the question:
Question: Great. So you’ve recently suggested five tips for how people can make it much harder, if not impossible, to get snooped on. These include using various encryption technologies and location-obscuring methods. Is that the solution?
Response: My five tips suck. They are not things the average person can use. One of them is to use PGP [a data-encryption program]. But my mother can’t use PGP. Maybe some people who read your publication will use my tips, but most people won’t.
Basically, the average user is screwed. You can’t say  “Don’t use Google”—that’s a useless piece of advice. Or “Don’t use Facebook,” because then you don’t talk to your friends, you don’t get invited to parties, you don’t get laid. It’s like libertarians saying “Don’t use credit cards”; it just doesn’t work in the real world.
The Internet has become essential to our lives, and it has been subverted into a gigantic surveillance platform. The solutions have to be political. The best advice for the average person is to agitate for political change.
Yes, I can use all that but how many people I interact with know how? Very few...and they are not inclined to learn.

Is this the best approach? No, it's not. The cage door has been closed for awhile now...we were just blind.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 




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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure



Comments

Urko Masse said…
Thanks for the mention!
Now, about your article... Yes, I'm going to take you to task again.
It seems to me that the gist of it is: "I share pretty much anything that I do on my iPad, so obviously all my students and all the teachers will do the same."
Up until this very day, I hadn't seen anyone making this distinction between public vs. private devices, and then taking the next step of acceptance: "and that's fine by me."
It's like saying that most thieves out there are able to unlock your door anyway, so why bother locking it at all?
Is that too big of a step in my reasoning? We probably disagree in that subjective appreciation :)
Your article goes on the assumption that to be able to "read rabble-rousing articles" you forcefully need to choose the iPad. It would be easy to read between your lines that this is the only touch-based platform that enables this activity. And really, that's a gross oversimplification: it's more about what you create, what you type, who you email, who you chat with, who emails you. We all know that it's all too easy to configure all your personal accounts on these devices, and so your personal information, what would be comparable to what you do in the toilet, will also be on your iPad.
With Android, content creation, reading rabble-rousing articles, sharing and collaborating is just as possible. Indeed, the same lists of "Apps for Bloom's Taxonomy" exist for Android as well.
And you get to do all that, while educating students in the use of a platform where you CAN - should you choose to - preserve your privacy with great effectiveness. There is nothing to give up, and a lot to gain: the empowerment of our students, getting to acquire knowledge with an expert at hand (that would be you) in an environment that does not prevent them in the future from being in full control of their digital footprint.
And it's cheaper to boot!! :)

I won't go into your subjective judgement of Android as "buggy". It has no technical foot to stand on, but it would make my comment quite a bit longer with irrelevant details to the core debate.

Just because nobody else thinks about these details of the platform selection, it is precisely up to us with the IT knowledge needed to take them into account in the choices we made for our students. I don't feel comfortable giving up on that duty.

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