neil stephenson [ author of cryptonomicon, which is is being read by myself at the average of one page per day ] has made it into the washington post with the supposedly heretical view that we need to update our ‘threat model’ and be concerned less with cartoonish privacy issues of big brother and spend more brainpower on more urgent issues:
“Stephenson challenged the more than 1,000 people who had gathered from around the world to focus their attention less on installing encryption software against the vague threat of snooping by Big Brother, a reassuringly simple fantasy of a totalitarian state, and more on the very real pattern of injustice brought to bear on people through employers and other institutions.
Stephenson said he was less worried these days about broad, theoretical privacy issues than about a recent incident in which a stray bullet crashed through a window at a friend’s house and narrowly missed a sleeping child.”
“Stephenson’s speech was a lot more subtle and textured than the discussion of it here would lead you to believe. In fact, he said that he greatly admired people like Phil who have brought encryption to the world, and believes in fighting oppression in all its forms. The underscored point, however, was the “in all its forms” part. He referred back to our hominid ancestors and showed a pie chart of what their threat model might have been. It was about 98 percent HYENAS and about 2 percent OTHER. Once early man developed some good spears, he said, the hyena problem was less pressing–but early man didn’t move on to try to conquer threats like intestinal parisites. His point, then, was that we need to update our threat models more often, and more subtly, than humans usually do. He then showed another pie chart. 98
percent was BIG BROTHER. 2 percent was OTHER. It got a big laugh from the crowd, because a lot of people recognized themselves. Stephenson again said that it was important ot expose and fight the bad things that “domination systems” to, but said that we should open the pie chart up to include and focus on other threats as well. In fact, he conceded, his pie chart of the threat model with lots of slices still could have the largest slice devoted to worrying about Big Brother. I hope that this gives a more full description of what Stephenson said in his talk. I wrote the story for the Washington Post, and tried to get as much of that flavor into it as I could. ”