Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Lovelocks: The Gap Between Intimacy and Security

Let me start by asking a question. One that has been thoroughly explored by others, but may not have occurred to you:

Why do you lock your doors when you leave your house?

We know that almost all locks can be defeated, either surrupticiously (for example, picking or bumping the lock) or destructively (for example, by snapping the lock). What does this say about your choice to lock the door?

Many agree with me when I say that a lock on a private residence is a social contract. For those that are painfully aware of how weak they are, they represent a firm but polite "Keep Out" notice. They are there to mark your private space.

Now, assume that you and your partner have a long distance from relationship with one another, and also live in the 50s. Love letters may have been common in this era, and you would have likely kept the letters in your house. I know that I did just this with previous partners. I kept the love letters in my house.

Imagine that someone breaks into your house and photographs or photocopies those letters, and posts the contents of them in an international newspaper. To learn of the intrusion, and that you have been attacked on such a fundamental level would be devastating.

To my mind, that is a reasonable analogy for what has happened to those who have had their intimate photos taken and posted to 4chan. An attacker defeated clear security mechanisms to gain access to information that was obviously, deeply, private and personal to the victims.

These victims were not fools, they did the equivalent of locking their doors. Maybe they didn't buy bump, snap, drill and pick resistant locks for over £100 per entrance, but they still marked the door as an entrance to a private space and as such marked it as their private space.

It is right that the police should be treating this breach as an extremely serious assault on these womens' (and they are all women at this time) personal lives, and therefore pursuing the perpetrators to the fullest extent allowable under law.

Claiming that the victims should have practiced better security in this case is  blaming the victim. If I go to a bank, and entrust my will to one of their safety deposit boxes (now a dying service), and it is stolen or altered in my absence, am I at fault? No, the bank should be investing in better locks -- that's what they're paid to do; and beyond that, people shouldn't be robbing banks. Bank robbers are not my fault, and iCloud hackers are not the fault of these women.

Further, it is just plain daft to claim that these women would be able to protect themselves in this world, and maintain the intimate relationships that they wanted to. Security is very hard, we know this as barely a week passes where members of a service are not urged to change their passwords due to a security breach. And these breaches affect entities of all sizes, from major corporations to single people. Even those agencies with budgets the size of a small country's GDP, and whose remit is to protect the lives of many people have serious breaches, as evidenced by the ongoing Snowden leaks.

Expecting anyone to be cognizant of the security implications and necessary precautions of sharing an intimate moment with a partner is to ask them to question their trust for that person and the openness of that moment. Security is the quintessential closing off of oneself from the world, of limiting trust, and exerting control. Intimacy; even long distance; is about opening oneself up to another person, to sharing yourself with them, extending to them a deep trust, and allowing them a spectacular amount of control over yourself, physically and emotionally. To place these two worlds together is cognitive dissonance made manifest.

And yet, we use these flawed security devices to display and proclaim our love -- and hence intimacy -- with one another. Even as a we put love locks on bridges, we know that they can be removed. We acknowledge their physical limitations as we try to communicate our emotions with each other.

We are accepting of the persistent and somewhat insurmountable failings of physical security, and we do not blame the victim when their physical security is breached. It is also the case that physical and digital security are in many senses a good analogy of one another, but that we apply different standards. We need to start realising that digital security is also imperfect, and further, that it is not the victims' fault when that security fails.

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