Some thoughts on Comey's hearing

The best bit from today was Comey and King's exchange about 11th century politics:

KING: when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?

COMEY: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Which is of course a reference to the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas A Becket, who was murdered in the 11th century when King Henry II issued the infamous line. His knights took it as an order and killed Becket.

King Henry appointed Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury because King Henry wasn't in the best spot with the Pope, so he tried to get someone with loyalty to the crown in between the two. When it turned out Becket was not loyal (maybe he was "honestly loyal"!), the King "suggested" a resolution.

What's also great, is that this bit of information finally, finally led the internet to tracking down Comey online.

Follow that? Comey wrote a thesis on Reinhold Niebuhr, a christian theological scholar who wrote extensively on Thomas Becket. ReinholdNiebuhr is an instagram account that follows Comey's son - and matches the number of followers Comey himself said that he had. Over on twitter, there is a user "projectexile7" who's "real name" is "Reinhold Niebuhr" with no public tweets at all. It has one follower, who is a personal friend of Comey. Additionally, "Project Exile" was a Federal program Comey spearheaded.

Why do I care about exposing his identity online? Because this is a guy who wants federal backdoors into encryption technologies - who wants to fundamentally attack the most important innovation of our time - secure communications. In his own words:

"That means half of the devices that we encounter ... cannot be opened with any technique. That is a big problem. And so the shadow continues to fall."

So as a huge portion of the country talks about how great he was today (and he wasn't bad, I mean can you imagine the pressure?) - and as the well deserved ribbing of McCain's "President Comey" misstep gives way to actual suggestions that he would be a good president, I'd like to suggest one thing:

Is it possible the bigger story here - bigger than Trump, bigger than Clinton, bigger than the election and bigger than Russia - that the human race is confronted with a technological choice emblematic of every formerly political choice? Do we want freedom - with all its pitfalls, all its vulnerability to foreign totalitarianism, all its unbreakable encryption for drug dealers and terrorists, all its technical nuance of running an open-source email service and asking Reddit for tech support, or do we want a world without real encryption - a world where, should Comey (or Thomas Becket) have been complicit and cooperative, the President would be able to tweet from any account, would be able to send you fake news directly via iOS, would be able to arrest anyone leaving the country with a PGP key.

This is a big problem.

Let's not lionize Comey or the FBI. Should the resolution to Russian interference be more centralisation of our electorate? Will we need another Snowden in 2025 to tell us how f-ed up that system is? Or do we move forward into a brave new world of open-source, audit-able and cryptographically verifiable democracy?

The next few years will be full of conversation regarding "hardening" the election process. Let's harden it the right way - in the open, cryptographically, in a way that benefits all humans on earth. Let's not harden it by sanctioning Russia or hacking iPhones.

And so the shadow continues to fall.

  • Seandon Mooy