Humor by John Christmann

For Your Eyes Only

Mr. Spock using the vulcan mind-meld

Given all the controversy surrounding private email servers circulating the political landscape lately, I have been thinking a lot about email confidentiality.

I would share my thoughts with you, but then they wouldn’t be secure.

So instead I will blind copy you so that you feel complicit in something. But please don’t share this with anybody else. It is extremely private.

First, let me just say that as a non-expert in security, if I understand it correctly, which I clearly don’t, a private email server is actually an oxymoron. According to the people who know, by taking an email server private, it is less so. It is far less secure than using the servers of the US Government, home of the NSA, the US Post Office, disillusioned WikiLeakers, and the large target of sophisticated hackers everywhere.

If I were rich and powerful, I certainly would entertain a private yacht or a private jet or maybe a private elevator, but a private email server? That doesn’t even sound cool.

No thank you. I have enough electronic doodads in my house that require passwords and electricity and signals and wires and non-existent user manuals that give me constant headaches.

Why would I want another electronic appliance with blinking lights that shuts down and gives me cryptic error messages I don’t understand? I can barely operate my dishwasher.

But I certainly understand that there are important people in this world who must communicate extremely sensitive information which must be classified for our protection. Or more likely, theirs. And according to the experts, trying to maintain a personal email system for privacy ranks right up there with sending out underwear for dry cleaning.

Because amid the millions of email chains requesting conference rooms or organizing lunch dates or providing these important people with instructions to pick up milk and bread on the way home from work, there are probably some pretty meaty documents that contain things like nuclear codes. Or worse, the passwords to government email servers.

And, according to the latest report from the FBI, a private email server is even less secure than Gmail.

Being one of many millions of people who rely on Gmail to deliver my email, that comparison does not make me feel all that comfortable. Even when I have nothing to protect.

Let’s face it. In this day and age, our personal communication is in the hands of other people and we don’t even know exactly who those people are. Because the people that have access to our private communication are private. Unless of course they use email, in which case their privacy is in the hands of other private people. And so on until the existence of a puppet master is proposed and a conspiracy theory formally hatched.

Like most people, I believe you can either be paranoid that someone is reading your personal email or remain comfortable knowing that no one cares.

I am in the later camp. Because unless someone is looking over my shoulder as I type, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make any effort at all to hack through my personal dune of innocuous communication for a couple grains of sand that would probably only incriminate me to poor grammar and bad spelling.

I am just not that important.

At some point we just have to trust all of the invisible communication services we now use because frankly we have no choice. We have seen way too many spy movies to ever think anything is safe from prying eyes and ears, even soup cans wired together with string.

And so we take some comfort in encryption.

But wait, according to knowledgeable Eastern European code breaking experts associated with the mafia who hang out at Starbucks and steal Wi-Fi signals, encryption is not particularly reliable either.

Unless it is one-way encryption. For example, if I send this: %6iuy8 rt*@35x & 8vw$#, I can personally guarantee that no hackers know what I am communicating because I don’t either.

However, that does not mean that what I sent is not inappropriate or admissible in a court of law. So just to be safe, I want to go on the record that %6iuy8 rt*@35x & 8vw$# in no way denigrates the fine Eastern European mafia types who are reading my emails and stealing my credit card information at Starbucks as I type.

There is of course an obvious solution to privacy. Don’t communicate. Just think how safe and secure we would all be if we didn’t write or talk to each other.

Oh wait. I forgot the Vulcan mind-meld from Star Trek. If someone like Mr. Spock can read our thoughts, that idea doesn’t work either. Especially if Spock is Eastern European and hangs out in Starbucks.

My advice? Live long and prosper.

Just don’t email anyone about it.