Readers of this blog will know this has been an interesting couple of days for me. I have very mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, it’s brought this blog a handful of new readers who might not have discovered it otherwise. On the other hand, it’s made me a part of the story in a way I don’t deserve to be.
After speaking with my colleagues and (most importantly) with my wife, I thought I might use the last few seconds of my inadvertent notoriety to make some of highly non-technical points about the recent NSA revelations and my decision to blog about them.
I believe my first point should be self-evident: the NSA has made a number of terrible mistakes. These range from policy decisions to technical direction, to matters of their own internal security. There may have been a time when these mistakes could have been mitigated or avoided, but that time has passed. Personally I believe it passed even before Edward Snowden made his first contact with the press. But the disclosures of classified documents have set those decisions in stone.
Given these mistakes, we’re now faced with the job of cleaning up the mess. To that end there are two sets of questions: public policy questions — who should the NSA be spying on and how far should they be allowed to go in pursuit of that goal? And a second set of more technical questions: how do we repair the technological blowback from these decisions?
There are many bright people — quite a few in Congress — who are tending to the first debate. While I have my opinions about this, they’re (mostly) not the subject of this blog. Even if they were, I would probably be the wrong person to discuss them.
So my concern is the technical question. And I stress that while I label this ‘technical‘, it isn’t a question of equations and logic gates. The tech sector is one of the fastest growing and most innovative areas of the US economy. I believe the NSA’s actions have caused long-term damage to our credibility, in a manner that threatens our economic viability as well as, ironically, our national security.
The interesting question to me — as an American and as someone who cares about the integrity of speech — is how we restore faith in our technology. I don’t have the answers to this question right now. Unfortunately this is a long-term problem that will consume the output of researchers and technologists far more talented than I. I only hope to be involved in the process.
So while I know there are people at NSA who must be cursing Edward Snowden’s name and wishing we’d all stop talking about this. Too late. I hope that they understand the game we’re playing now. Their interests as well as mine now depend on repairing the damage. Downplaying the extent of the damage, or trying to restrict access to (formerly) classified documents does nobody any good.
It’s time to start fixing things.