Monday, December 15, 2008

McCain Campaign BlackBerrys Sold at Bargain-Basement Prices - Confidential Data Included: What's the Matter With People These Days?!

The McCain-Palin campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, didn't need all the stuff in its office, so it had a sort of 'gone out of business' sale.

So far, smart. Good common sense, anyway.

Governors Don't Like Their Cell Phone Numbers Being Sold

One little problem. At least two of the BlackBerry devices sold hadn't had their memories erased.
Understatement: Not a British Monopoly
Although we, here in the American colonies, have proven ourselves more boisterous and quite lacking in proper British reserve, we do seem to have retained one of those qualities which have set mother England apart: A knack for understatement.

Case in point, this quote from an article recounting reactions to the inadvertent sale of campaign secrets. Emphasis mine:

"The second device contained 300 'contacts,' including former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

"Gilmore, when reached on the cell phone, wasn't happy to learn that his information had been sold.

" 'It makes me uncomfortable. ... It's a matter of principle. I gave the information to McCain headquarters, and to have it sold is bothersome,' he told the TV station.

"The station called a McCain-Palin campaign worker, who said, 'It was an unfortunate staff error and procedures are being put in place to ensure all information is secure.'..."
(FOXNews (December 15, 2008))

Selling Confidential Information, By Accident: What's the Matter With People These Days?!

Being born in the Truman administration, I could, with very little effort, become a somewhat underage irascible old coot. Two things keep me from slipping too far in that direction:
  • Distaste for criticisms that begin with "Back in my day..."
  • A pretty good memory
From some official's wife accepting a vicuna coat to an Argentinian stripper breaking a congressman's glasses, and the time a National Park Service controlled burn almost incinerated the Los Alamos research facility, I've noticed that people make mistakes, accidents happen, and that highly-respected political leaders can act like nincompoops. And get re-elected.

It's been like that for fifty years, and I don't see all that much improvement: or decay.

Unwiped BlackBerries, Lost Laptops: Wake Up, America, There's a War on

This could be early-onset old cootishness, but I sometimes feel that too many Americans have gotten sloppy. Maybe because several decades went by with chronic dangers, but no obvious acute threats to America, the idea that confidential data needs to be kept confidential lapsed.

These campaign BlackBerrys are, I hope, a trivial problem. I sympathize with former Virginia Governor Gilmore, but the odds are pretty good that he's not going to get hurt. On the other hand, vice presidential candidate Palin's church did catch fire: and law enforcement is treating it as possible arson.

But the bargain-basement BlackBerrys probably won't even be a nine-day wonder.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a pattern of sloppy handling of sensitive information and data systems: from the Pentagon network getting hacked to missing laptops. That could be very serious.

About the last thing I want to see is some ham-handed "government crackdown" on people who mislay laptops or accidentally infect the American defense network.

At this point, people who foul up seem willing to tell their superiors when there's a problem. And that makes it possible to define the issue and start dealing with it.

If mislaying a laptop, or putting an infected screen saver on your computer, might mean the end of a career or time in prison, I doubt that people would be as willing to accept responsibility.

On the other hand, I think that people who deal with sensitive data should be taught some situational awareness. And, a deep-seated understanding of just how important secrets can be.

Finally, getting people to be sensible about secure data isn't just an American issue, as the "related posts" shows.

Related posts: In the news:


Christopher Parker said...

The NRA used to have a slogan that amused me: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

I always thought that was an argument for gun control: if people kill people, then why give them guns?

And here we have another fact: people loose things, forget things and otherwise screw up.

Is it really worse now than in the Truman administration? Or have we given people the technology that allows them to magnify the effects of their mistakes? And make it easier for us to find out about them!

I say, humans are just being humans and we just always have to take that into account. The way engineers design redundant systems.

In the old days we dealt more with physical objects. Screw ups meant death. We live in a pretty safe, secure world compared to 50 years ago.

Brian H. Gill said...

Christopher Parker,

I'd rather live now than back in the "good old days," and I've always thought that human beings were people - and were fallible.

On the other hand, information can kill, just as surely as tangible things. A private-sector example is the murder of Scott Amedure, which arguably was in part a result of information aired on the Jenny Jones show.

In the context of the war on terror, information like the identities of people who provide intelligence about terrorist organizations could lead to their deaths.

Brian H. Gill said...

Christopher Parker,

I'm reviewing the last 60 days or so of posts, and see that I missed something.

About the first two paragraphs of your comment:

"The NRA used to have a slogan that amused me: 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people.'

"I always thought that was an argument for gun control: if people kill people, then why give them guns?"

I see your point, but the NRA was, to the best of my ability to discern, addressing the issue of hoplophobia in American politics. It is difficult to avoid the impression that quite a few people are convinced that guns do, in fact kill people. Not the people wielding the guns: the guns themselves.

More, at "EEEK! Guns! Hoplophobia and Foreign Policy " (December 23, 2007).

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.