The Injustice of the Unspeakables

There is great opportunity for both justice and injustice in technology, and the line separating the two is razor thin. The same technology that’s designed to hunt down terrorists can be used to hunt down “terrorists.” Clever code and specialized hardware that is designed to unscramble an opposing military’s secret plans – used to great effect against the Nazis during WWII – could just as easily be mutated into monitoring devices listening in on the encrypted communications of one’s own citizens.

When the topic of injustice in technology comes up these days, we tend to think of privacy rights, freedom of speech, or oppression on the Internet. There’s a lot of baggage involved, mostly political. Leave that baggage aside for a second, because while I don’t deny that there is a major political element to the question of injustice in the technology sphere, I think these discussions unfortunately tend to ignore those who have most at stake in the debate: the actual victims. For them, these questions of injustice aren’t just a nice topic to discuss over cocktails – it’s a daily fear that’s justified every time someone disappears. They are the Unspeakables – deprived of a voice in the conversation almost by definition. So take a moment, and actually read the verses below, because thankfully, God cares a lot about those who are oppressed, and he’s given them a voice at his throne that no one can silence:

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
Preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
From the throng of evildoers,
Who whet their tongues like swords,
Who aim bitter words like arrows,
Shooting from ambush at the blameless,
Shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
They talk of laying snares secretly,
Thinking, “Who can see the?”
They search out injustice,
Saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.
Psalm 64:1-6, ESV

The Unspeakables have hope, and we have hope, because God promises to bring justice. I think I’m also beginning to see how I may have the privilege of working, via my career in computer security, to extend God’s good and right justice to help the Unspeakables of our time.

You see, part of the problem “Out There” in the security industry (not targeting anyone in particular) is that once you’ve invented a great piece of security software, your job is to sell it. So you can start adding a little mac and cheese to your ramen-only diet. Are you going to sell it to whoever will buy it? No! Of course not, we have morals, duh! What if it’s a nation state? What if they’ll buy it for $20,000? $2 million? $20 million a year? Oh. And of course it’ll only be used to track down criminals who deserve to be punished. Ohh, ok, seems reasonable after all. Actually looking up their human rights record is a PitA when $10 mil is on the line, isn’t it?

Now before we get all worked up and self-righteous about those people “Out There” remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2: “and we also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its thoughts and desires.” Until the day we die, “Out There” is also “In Here.”

So that’s one of the great struggles in this field. As a computer security guy, will I chose to help those who are oppressed to find freedom and regain the ability to communicate as they will, or will I help the deep-pocketed evildoers? Will I care enough to ponder the potential repercussions and alternate uses of technology I create and who might get their hands on it? Will I even remember the oppressed? That is my mission and my goal.

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