system for transporting data
Thursday, February 7 2008
There was an article today in the Washington Post about the searching (and, often, indefinite seizure) of laptops, MP3 players, and other information devices at American borders. This mostly happens when people from Muslim countries attempt to enter the United States, but it's a possible risk for anyone crossing any international border. As a border crossing becomes an increasingly unpredictable experience, people become less and less interested in undertaking it, ultimately increasing the isolation of the country with the uncertain borders. In the past unpleasant border experiences were mostly associated with the old Soviet Union and low-latitude tyrannies, but evidently it's impossible to fight terrorism without sacrificing so much freedom that you begin to take on characteristics you used to point out as flaws in others.
There is nothing that I can do to make the crossing of American borders any more pleasant for my data-carrying friends, but I can offer an idea to protect their data (terrorist-related or otherwise) from unwanted inspection. Here's my idea for a secure and mostly-impenetrable system for transporting data. Like more familiar systems, it would encrypt the hard drive (or other storage media), making it accessible with a password. But instead of accepting only one password, it would accept many. With some passwords, the unlocked data would be completely bland and non-sensitive: copies of book reports written in high school, recipes for chocolate cakes, snap shots from a vacation to Disney World, or Radiohead's latest album in MP3 form. With other passwords, though, the data could be terrorist messages, child pornography, bomb making instructions, pirated movies, nuclear reactor maps, photographs of hydro-electric dams, a list of the overseas prisons used by the CIA to torture suspected terrorists, the DeCSS algorithm, or other things one might want to conceal when passing through a border checkpoint. It's common for a border guard, on encountering an encrypted laptop, to demand that its owner type in the password. With the system I've just described, the owner could type in the password allowing access to the benign material and, upon satisfying the guard, could carry the bad stuff right on through. (The aforementioned system constitutes prior art, January 7th 2008, in case anyone has the idea of patenting it.) [A reader sends me a link to a Wikipedia article demonstrating that someone has thought of this already.]
Today's withdrawal of Mitt Romney from the Republican Presidential Primary race, while surely causing Osama bin Laden to quail with fear (owing to the support it supposedly gives to the American War on Tair), managed to introduce a tiny skip in my step today. All the articles written about Romney's withdrawal claimed that it would somehow benefit McCain in his consolidation of Republican support. But I didn't see it that way. To me, Romney's withdrawal's largest effect was the narrowing of the non-McCain Republican field to one person: Mike Huckabee, the last Christianist left standing. On Super Tuesday, the right wing crazy vote had been divided between Huckabee and Romney, leaving McCain with all of the "liberal" and "moderate" Republicans (found mostly in the north and on the coasts). With Huckabee the only Republican alternative to McCain, I suspect he will do well in the primaries that remain (which include huge states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Huckabee could take all of those states, and Virginia too. Where would that leave McCain? Conventional wisdom says he's already the victor, but this wouldn't be the first time conventional wisdom failed to use its collective noggin (the run up to the Iraq War being their worst failure to date).
This evening David (of Penny and David) came over to help us eat vegan paella that Gretchen had made. The paella was delicious, reminding me of jambalaya.
corrected mispellings on this page:
siezure] of laptops
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
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