Encryption as Insurgency


Note: The concepts for this piece are based upon Bernard E. Harcourt’s new thesis on surveillance, “Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age”.

It is almost paradoxical to see the current spat between the FBI and Apple rage on about the latter’s use of strong encryption to protect their customers’ privacy.  Though this conflict has become a political one with other overtones, and the FBI has recently claimed that they have successfully broken the encryption of a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, thus no longer necessitating Apple provide them with a solution, this new conflict is far from over.

Historically, it has always been a rather small or seemingly irrelevant event that changes the current trends in a society or even the world; an event that comes on the heels of many previous trends that have reached a climatic point.  Or sometimes change has come from events that people have completely distorted as the reason for such change, which then foments societal memes that have little to do with reality.  The following examples of misconstrued beliefs about historical events provide some context for the history that follows…

Distorted Histories

In the 1950s we had Senator McCarthy riling about Communist infiltrators into American society while leading the charge to find any so-called Communist agents among a variety of professional fields in the United States.  In fact, he wasn’t completely wrong (ie: Julius Rosenberg), he just went about it the wrong way.  Yet, when he targeted a young army officer who had a spotless record for his patriotism, McCarthy’s pursuit of Communist bogeyman around every corner was stopped in it’s tracks by the US Army. The bubble of self-induced fear that McCarthy fomented and many Americans latched onto exploded into nothingness leaving him and his ravings to fade away; though the legacy of the irrational fear of Communism in the United States has remained even to this day.

Many have been taught for decades that it was the assassination of the archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian national that initiated WWI.  It is touted as if it were a standard historical axiom.  However, this event was not the actual cause of the conflict.  European royals had been assassinated fairly regularly prior to this tragedy for 20 years without a world conflict erupting.  It was instead the rather innocuous mobilization of the Russian Armed Forces for Serbia’s defense, though they played little to no part in such an endeavor, which up through WWII, was an indication to all that a country was going to war that actually initiated these hostilities, which changed the world forever.  And the reason it couldn’t be stopped is for the lack of telephone technology that European diplomats adhered to as a result of tradition that diplomacy was done face to face or via formal dispatch… though many tried to in fact stop the coming trauma.  Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany desperately tried to stop what he knew to be coming but failed to reach the Russian Czar, a cousin of his, in time.

And though many luminaries like to tout the idea that social movements can change the world as they did during the 1930s when Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was initiated in response to social demands, nothing could have been further from the truth.  The “New Deal” was developed to stop the US citizenry from taking up arms against the government as a result of the Great Depression while the government desperately wanted to save capitalism.  The “New Deal” was actually the barest of plans that would assuage an angry populace headed to the extremes of violent revolution.

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