We seem to have learned three important lessons in the wake of the latest NSA leak. First off, the US and Chinese government have an uncomfortable number of things in common.
Second, the US government hires way too many kids (remember Bradley Manning?) into high security spots that shouldn’t be in high security spots. Third, Blackberry may be the only platform that is actually secure (for two big reasons). So yes, it might be nice to have a secure cell phone – especially if you are a politician or celebrity living in the US or China. Let me explain.
China vs. The US on Privacy
The motivation behind the snooping policies of Beijing and DC are quite different, although the results and problems are the same. In China, the government aggressively monitors its citizens because the system of government in China promotes revolution. Unlike the US, if you want to change the government you have to revolt. In the US we have elections (which, yes, you could argue aren’t exactly effective). In the US, if you are voted out of office you typically receive a pension and medical benefits. However, after a revolution in China, you tend to get a long jail term (if you are lucky) or a death sentence (if you are not). That provides a rather significant motivation to avoid a revolution and monitor citizens closely.
In the US we have pissed off a lot of people that want to blow our citizens up. Having citizens blow up isn’t good for political careers. Given that some of the folks who want to blow up citizens prefer politicians as targets, the politicians are aggressively motivated to avoid this outcome. In addition, information creates power and having lots of it can provide benefits from being the most informed person (most powerful) in a political debate on any issue to having data that can force the outcome you desire.
It’s called blackmail and is a common tool for anyone who doesn’t have much of an ethical center – and politics tends to attract such folks like a flame to a moth. In the US, we had the Patriot Act which was kind of screw due process god mode for those in the domestic intelligence gathering business. And that’s basically why the government likely knows more about what our kids are doing than we do.
Kids (and if we aren’t there we were) don’t understand consequences and tend to have raging hormones. This makes them very likely to make the kind of mistakes that older adults would avoid like the plague because they tend to make decisions tactically and emotionally. This is great when it comes up to executing a new idea that most think is impossible, it isn’t that great when it comes to weapons, recreational drugs, mating or major choices.
Whether it is mass killings or security leaks – while you can have them occur with older folks too – right now the incidence of young people making these decisions is unusually high, suggesting they need to be vetted better and monitored more closely. In addition, perhaps certain jobs should be limited to older folks, while rules surrounding weapons access should be a bit more strict with folks under 30.
There is a lot of discussion right now whether Ed Snowden is a hero or a traitor. However, the reality is the guy has destroyed not only his life but likely the lives of his girlfriend and parents – and it seems clear he really didn’t understand either his personal risk or the collateral damage. The fact that Snowden is asking for asylum in China of all places suggests he really didn’t think this through. In the end, he really shouldn’t have been hired and after the Bradley Manning incident you’d think folks would have a clue and recognize that some types of people shouldn’t be in high security jobs. Also, you’d hope the US government would understand hat monitoring its citizens, some of which are in Congress, would likely end really badly.
The whole NSA initiative focuses on phones and security and the place to go to see if any phone might be more secure than the others is the DoD (Department of Defense) guidelines. Given the DOD knows about the NSA activities (well, at least you hope they do) looking at what the DoD recommends is a good way to get a sense of security. The recommendations covering all of the phones is here. What you’ll find is that if you want to use an iPhone or an Android Phone you pretty much need to lock it down solid and use a management service. The only service that appears to be approved, ironically, is Blackberry’s.
Looking at the iPhone in particular, you have to disable Safari, iMessage, iTunes, the Apple App store and WiFi (pretty much everything that makes the iPhone an iPhone). Anything short of the case and UI have to be turned off and Android isn’t any different. Windows Phone is actually better, but you have to use Good Technology to secure the phone. Blackberry is best because you don’t appear to have to cripple it at all.
Unlike Apple and Google, Blackberry is in Canada and Canada doesn’t seem to be doing the really aggressive monitoring that the US and China are doing. Given how nice Canadians are I’d expect them to actually ask permission first. So this whole dustup should benefit Blackberry and it is hurting US technology companies a lot because really no one, particularly if there are in foreign countries, likes the idea of the US government monitoring their conversations, texts, or location.
It is kind of nice to be Canadian. They actually have affordable government healthcare, doesn’t appear to be at war with its citizens, most foreign countries don’t want to blow Canadians up, and Blackberry, a Canadian company, is being helped by its government. Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo? Not so much. I imagine we have a lot in common with the Chinese people at the moment. Meaning, we both wish we had a government thinking more about what to do for us, rather than to us.
If you are like me, maybe this weekend is a good weekend to check out housing prices in Canada. Given how fast prices are rising there you are likely not alone.