The All-Knowingness and Gross-Secrecy Conundrum


          Rather than to make scapegoats of engineers, it might be wiser to lay before them a work programme… Elmer Ambrose Sperry, 1930

The development of narrative scripts (writing systems) for numbers and then language facilitated the archival preservation and broad dissemination of facts, fictions, accounts, and fantasy. However, narrative scripts were not nearly as proficient at preservation and dissemination of data as for information, likely inspiring and influencing development of computational scripts (mathematical systems).

The analog embodiment of these scripts accommodated physical and access control of data and information. Analog vested scripts together with analog networks comprised of oceans, seas, rivers, tributaries, and estuaries, brought potent benefits to mankind. Collaboration among family, friends, foe, colleagues, and importantly neighbors, increased in practice and value, as did commerce.

Digital scripts (binary systems) enable composition (production), preservation (storage), replication (virtual copies), and dissemination (distribution) of data and information. Importantly, they enable systems, devices, appliances, and applications to directly engage; machine-to-machine communication is a critical network centric process.

The Digital Ecosystem and Monoculture rely on digital scripts. The Digital Ecosystem is enabled by: Network Service Providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast; Network Technology OEM such as Cisco, Juniper, and HP; Mobile Architecture Providers such as Microsoft, Apple and Samsung; Application Portals such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo; and Cloud Facilitators such as Amazon and IBM. The Digital Monoculture enables interoperability among disparate data, applications, and devices.

The personal, commercial, and institutional benefits derived from global access to data and information, and Cloud facilitated on-demand digital resources, are apparent. The former aqueous networks have given way to a digital network of networks called the Internet. Like other game changing advances, digital script enabled technology found itself the chaperone of unintended consequences, the specter of all-knowingness.

In many regards, the Digital Ecosystem and Digital Monoculture are no more vulnerable than were the aqueous commercial networks, transports, and cargos of centuries past. Presently, sophisticated weaponized malware renders differentiation of noble from nefarious intent a daunting technical challenge. The broad disintegration of propriety and privacy has fomented unintended consequences, the specter of gross-secrecy.

All-knowingness is highly addictive. Its proponents crave access to data and information for which its owners hold reasonable expectations of privacy; they see their covert and clandestine actions as expressions of urgent benevolence and commercial expediency. Gross-secrecy is also highly addictive. Its proponents evidence totalitarian resistance to encroachment of both their contemporary and vintage stashes of secrets, believing personal risks always outweigh collective security interests.

Just as all-knowingness is antithetical to privacy, gross-secrecy is antithetical to collective security. Some would argue correctly that security would be enhanced were the barons of all-knowingness to impose this knowledge on everyone with regard to those in their sphere of influence (e.g. contact lists). Others would no doubt argue that vulnerability would be exacerbated as gross-secrets were mismanaged, misunderstood, and manipulated. To varying degrees, both conditions already prevail. Neither all-knowingness nor gross-secrecy alone can serve our highest security or moral interests.

It is important to recognize that neither point of view, all-knowingness or gross-secrecy, is necessarily diabolical, although such cogent consideration runs counter to our social and cultural conditioning, not to mention capitalistic instincts. It is crucial that we determine which resources can and cannot resolve this conundrum. Politics can never resolve this conundrum; politics only offers analytics but can’t run, pass, or catch. The solution must carry the essential genetic markers of the conundrum itself, technology.

Recently, a government coterie (by all accounts considered technology neophytes) missed a valuable opportunity when they marched into the valley of American technology giants with cease and desist vibrato, rather than specific lawful collective security objectives. Such specificity would have allowed the participants to memorialize specific technical goals and boundaries, to which the most creative community of technologist on the planet could innovate. Now positioned as combatants rather than citizen partners, both have launched media campaigns that bring resolution no closer.

Many rightfully question whether all meets the eye. The government might very well posses the assailant’s in-coming and out-going communications Meta data, iCloud backup, social media postings, radicalized training CV, and finance, relationship, and travel history. Could the Administrations petition, based on the All Writs Act of 1789, also seek to weaken limitations imposed by recent lawfully enacted legislation: 2015 Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA), 2015 Modified US-EU Safe Harbor Privacy Framework, and the 2015 Revised Patriot Act? Do American technology companies fear being labeled as conscripted informants of the U.S. government by their global competitors more than they fear U.S. government demands as a harbinger of future demands by other governments?

The most recent outbreak of conundrumitis evidences a disastrous breach of best practices. Politics has cast itself in the role of technologist, issuing specific court sanctioned technical directions. Technologists left with but two courses of action chose the path of lawful resistance over technical submission, challenging the constitutionality of the Attorney Generals petition.

Self-inflicted wounds are now running neck-and-neck with those realized from attacks and assaults by perpetrators. How to get members of team-america to focus more on an effective game plan than on who is captain or who will get the loudest applause, is actually the most dangerous and challenging conundrum we face.

Only Technology can enable All-knowingness and Gross-secrecy to beneficially Coalesce