A picture of an Apple MacBook sitting next to a user who is running a (obsensibly) Windows HP lapotp

GNUThink

I sometimes get to a point where I question a lot of what I do and what matters to me. Sometimes it’s because of simple things, like a broken tool, or a frustrating problem. Sometimes it’s more of a philosophy problem, where I question how I feel about something and if I should change my ideas or mannerisms behind some action.

Lately, it’s been a little of both. I use an iPhone, Apple Music, iCloud (storage, etc), Office 365, and probably other tools and services that would be considered “non-free” in the “libre” sense. This has lead to me thinking about what I actually want out of computing. It’s such a thorny question, because there are so many comfortable choices that I’m in, that upending them would probably throw my life (and my family’s) into temporary turmoil.

For instance: Office 365. I pay for just the Exchange Online component, because I don’t need the actual Office suite as we (my family) get it free from my school and other organizations that we’re associated with. Exchange Online has been fine from a end-user perspective. Very rarely do I have any real issues to speak of, other than paying for it. My real problem here is that it’s a very proprietary platform, and because of that, it’s moderately difficult to get out of and to connect to with free-software tools. The IMAP support is… functional, but the contacts and calendars are tied down.

Similarly, I have lots of Apple devices and services. Like Office 365, I don’t have any complaints, per se, it’s just that they’re extremely proprietary and that means getting out of the ecosystem is difficult, and like above, connecting using free-software tools is straight up impossible.

The reason I have these things in the first place is that my family, who don’t hold my free-software ideals, want/need access to reliable tools they can use from multiple places. This is not an unreasonable request, and is one that can be solved with enough time, free-software, capital and expertise. Unfortunately, I’m not willing or able to host all of that, or even administer it. I don’t have the time, and I certainly don’t have the specific expertise to do all of it. Hence the current implementation.

Balance between freedom, convenience and cost is a tricky one. While I’d personally like to model myself more in line with the FSF’s computing ideals. The problem is that I have family members that I have to support as well. I’d also like to move them toward more free-software systems. While I recognize their choice in platforms is their own, I also get to say what I will and will not support (kind of, family is so complicated).

I don’t have any kind of resolution for this, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of path I want to take. Is pragmatism the smarter choice? Idealism feels right, but is massively more difficult to implement. There is probably a good middle of the road, but I don’t know if I’m on it. Maybe it doesn’t matter?

What should I do?

Featured Image

“Ugh, a Mac”, by Joe Wilcox – License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

FBI vs. Apple: Round 2

Ah, the good old false trade-off: Security or Letting the Terrorists Win and Kill Your Children. Once again, we have Apple being asked by the FBI to unlock or build back doors that “only law enforcement” (read: any bad guy) can use.

Look: I’m sympathetic to law enforcement. They have a tough enough time dealing with the literal worst of humanity and having to piece together the crimes that are comited by said. This is made more difficult when one of their suspects (or criminals) has encrypted some information. Because we have a codified right to privacy, it is reasonable to argue that giving up passcodes and other privacy stripping keys is not something we should have to do, no matter the case, as we’re all equal under the law (the Constitution being the “highest” of those laws).

This fight is further exacerbated by the fact that this is not the first time that Apple has reasonably denied these requests. It would damage their brand, their customer’s security and give an already powerful governmental department sweeping access to stuff it wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) have access to on it’s own. All in the name of “security”. The subtext of all of this is some what sadder: Despite all the massive surveillance that is being done on Americans, we still cannot stop domestic terrorism from happening. Giving the FBI or any entity, aside from the consumer, access to a device that has become the epicenter (for better or worse) of many people’s lives goes counter to our rights.

What about providing a sort of “key escrow” for law enforcement? It would be a semi-reasonable method of giving everything they want, in theory. Law enforcement would have the ability to decrypt data that they would presumably have proven their need to access. The user would still have encryption that is difficult to impossible to break in a reasonable manner and their rights are respected.

The main problems with this scenario are:

  • Who do you give these keys to?
  • What legal recourse do you have if they loose, leak or otherwise provide (willingly or not) keys to someone who should not have it?
  • How do you get millions of people, companies and devices to enroll in this system when free, strong and cryptographically secure code and systems exist in the wild and aren’t going anywhere?
  • Criminals are obviously not going to enroll, so it defeats the point.

Not to mention the massive organizational nightmare it would be to ensure keys are tied to the right person, device or organization. The whole idea is infeasible on any sizable scale.

I wish the general public would be more aware of the erosion of rights. All too often we just allow our government to trample over us because it’s convenient or we’re lead to believe that it’s “for the greater good”. When in actuality we could take some pointers from France, England and Italy where when their governments do wrong, people protest. We need some of that fire back in America, not this anesthetized complacency.