Thursday, September 12, 2013

Private Parts

As you might have heard, this week, Apple introduced the new iPhone lines. These included the iPhone 5S.

The 5S includes a marvelous piece of gadgetry that can secure your phone with the use of a fingerprint. This is a step wayyyyy up from the current four digit password, which most people don’t even utilize (probably because it’s a major hassle.)


In a day and age of NSA surveillance, is this something we really want? Worse, in a day and age of NSA surveillance, we have to make a decision with regards to any security measures we take with regards to anything, full stop.

It’s not an inconceivable conceit to believe that the NSA could hijack your phone, scan at least one fingerprint, and determine if, in fact, you’re a terrorist (or soon, no doubt, a criminal.) Think about it: monitor your touch screen, scan your fingerprint (or just sift it out of the database of information stored there through the backdoor) and take your picture secretly using your phone’s camera.

Contrast this dynamic with the desire to protect your personal data from people who would absolutely use your identity and information to rip you off: the common (and not-so-common) criminal. Clearly, fingerprint identification makes that job much harder, at least until technology catches up. Yes, there are kludges now to get around it, but those leave some trace of activity.

Add to this the plus that you will be able to prune the number of passwords you need to remember, especially as websites instruct you to use more and more complex ones, which force you to store them somewhere, which means someone else can find them and…

You’re back to square one.

The choice then comes down to, taking a slight, possibly insignificant chance that the NSA will compile your fingerprint or other information and begin to track you versus the rather large certainty that people with criminal intent are looking for easy prey. Both are very real possibilities, just one is far more omnipresent than the other.

But then this opens a larger issue: interacting with the public domain at all.

There’s really no way to avoid the potential of a government spying on you. Even if you stayed at home, changed your locks, shut off your cable, your grid-generated electric, shut down your telephones, and never sent or received mail – a scenario that would very likely raise someone’s eyebrows somewhere and possibly create its own problems in terms of staying off the NSA radar – you’d still have to eat food, generate waste, and use water. And even if you grew it all on your own land, and cooked it yourself, and had a septic system and recycled your water and composted your trash, you’d still appear somewhere.

You’d pay taxes of some sort, even if just property taxes. If you walked outside to plant crops, Google Maps might find you and if they can, the NSA can. Satellites, drones – already in use in some jurisdictions to search for hidden marijuana crops – hell, just a park ranger driving past in his pick up. All of these are potential sources of surveillance.

Nevermind that you have friends and family, too, all of whom would have some interaction with you, all of whom are potential informants, even incidentally.

Scary stuff out there, huh?