Posts tagged ‘Security’

Keeping It Quiet

Data Security

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a disturbing article on the kind of access that many app developers are able to gain to Gmail accounts, which now number over one billion.  Writing for the Journal, Douglas MacMillan opens his nearly 2,300-word article:

Google said a year ago it would stop its computers from scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information to personalize advertisements, saying it wanted users to “remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount.”

But the internet giant continues to let hundreds of outside software developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools.  Google does little to police those developers, who train their computers – and, in some cases, employees – to read their users’ emails, a Wall Street Journal examination has found.

One of those companies is Return Path Inc., which collects data for marketers by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path’s partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo email address.  Computers normally do the scanning, analyzing about 100 million emails a day.  At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software, people familiar with the episode say …

Letting employees read user emails has become “common practice” for companies that collect this type of data, says Thede Loder, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc., a rival to Return Path.  He says engineers at eDataSource occasionally reviewed emails when building and improving software algorithms.

“Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” says Mr. Loder.  “It’s kind of reality.”

This report serves as yet another reminder that the data and conversations one sends and stores on email might be personal, but they are probably not private.  Understanding you is too critical to too many companies who want to market to you.  So these companies, when you download one of their apps, ask you to check a box at the bottom of some long end-user agreement that almost no one reads that gives them permission to sneak-a-peak into your inbox.

This story can serve as a great reminder of the importance – and, really, the sanctity – of keeping a confidence.  Some information, no matter what a legal end-user agreement may allow, is not best morally bought, sold, and shared.  As Proverbs 11:13 pithily puts it: “A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.”

Confidences in our culture are far too easily betrayed.  From a person’s presumably private information being shared and sold by large tech companies under a cloud of legalese to the steady drip of politically laced leaks meant to damage people in public positions to the titillating headlines about this or that celebrity splashed across the front pages of our tabloids to the more modest office gossip that happens around water coolers across America, not only are we bad at keeping confidences, we often delight in breaking confidences if we think doing so will gain us friends and get us power. Unlike Christ, who sacrificed Himself for the sake of others, we, with giddily gossipy tongues, sacrifice others for the sake of ourselves.

Certainly, confidences can never be turned into excuses for cover-ups of sin.  Morally illicit behavior, when it comes to one’s attention, needs to be confronted frankly, even if also compassionately, by someone in a position of authority to do so, which means that sometimes, something that comes to your attention needs to be shared with someone who is equipped to address it.  But it can still be shared in strict confidence for a specific purpose – not to get the word out, but to privately and poignantly call someone to repentance.

At its heart, keeping a confidence is simply a vow to treat people’s tender spots tenderly.  We all have points of pain and shame in our lives.  To be able to share those with a person we can trust is often necessary for healing.  In a culture that delights in the damaging and devastating weaponry of gossip, may we practice the restorative and healing power of keeping a confidence.  As my mother used to say: “Sometimes, you’ve just got to zip your lips.”

This is most certainly true.

July 9, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Debating DACA

DACA

Credit: NBC News

When President Trump sent his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, before the cameras to announce the reversal of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals policy – an executive order signed by President Obama that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors to receive a renewable two-year deferral of deportation –  he had to suspect that his announcement would spark controversy both on the right and on the left.  In his statement, the Attorney General explained:

As the Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld…

To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it.

Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all cannot be accepted.

This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.

It is with these principles and duties in mind, and in light of imminent litigation, that we reviewed the Obama Administration’s DACA policy…

The Department of Justice has advised the President and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program.

Acting Secretary Duke has chosen, appropriately, to initiate a wind down process. This will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act – should it so choose. 

Key to understanding the Attorney General’s remarks is his acknowledgement that Congress can act to pass a bill that addresses the issue of immigrants brought to this country illegally as minors in the time that DACA is winding down. President Trump, in a Tweet, explicitly encouraged Congress to pass some sort of legislation that addresses this group of immigrants:

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

Though the issues involved here are many, I believe there are three specific concerns we must take into account in order to address the questions and controversies that surround DACA faithfully and sensitively.

The first concern is that of constitutionality.  Many are arguing that the action President Obama took when he signed his executive order on DACA was indeed constitutional.  Others are arguing just the opposite.  Just the fact that there are so many questions surrounding the legality of this executive order should at least encourage us to consider what other, less constitutionally questionable, options are available.  Operating squarely within the law brings a stability and sustainability to governmental actions that flirting with policies and positions on the legal periphery does not.  The Attorney General put it well in his statement when he said:

No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed. 

Societies where the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases tend to become societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering. 

The law, when it is written morally and enforced equitably, can indeed be a force for great good and a guard against dark evil.  Thus, constitutional questions ought to be carefully weighed when considering the future of DACA.

A second concern in this discussion should be that of safety.  Since its inception, about 1,500 people who were once eligible for DACA have had their DACA status revoked because they committed some sort of crime.  Since President Trump took office, arrests and deportations of DACA eligible immigrants have increased, pointing to a more rigorous prosecution against those who commit crimes.  In the interest of “providing for the common defense,” those who appear poised to do citizens harm should be carefully monitored and those who have done citizens harm should be appropriately punished.  A well-ordered society where wrongdoers are held accountable “promotes the general welfare” by allowing people to live in reasonable safety and societal prosperity.  The safety of people has been – and should continue to be – a focus not only of this government, but of any government.

A final concern in this discussion should be that of morality.  We must never forget that the legality of something doesn’t necessarily ensure the morality of something.  Abortion, for instance, may be legal, but it is certainly not moral.  This is why, for decades now, biblically minded Christians have been speaking out against it.  We must grapple with the question of morality when dealing with issues of unlawful immigration.  What is the right thing to do with this or that group of undocumented immigrants?  Are we called to help others, even if they are here illegally?  In Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite missed an opportunity to be a neighbor to a man who had been badly beaten and was laying on the side of the road because of some legal concerns over helping such a man.  Mosaic law stipulated that touching a dead body rendered a person ceremonially unclean.  The beaten man, although he was not in actuality dead, looked dead.  Checking on him, then, if he did turn out to be dead, would have legally defiled them.  So, they passed by as far away from him as they could “on the other side” so as not to risk defilement.  A Samaritan, however, when he saw this man, opted to take a risk and help him.  Jesus commends the Samaritan for having done the right thing.  A spirit of helpfulness and neighborliness can and should be paramount in how we address this issue.

Most of the angry polemical positions people take on this issue come when one of these concerns – be that the concern of constitutionality, safety, or morality – is exalted to the exclusion of the others.  Some are concerned only with legal questions and never bother to ask, “How can I be a neighbor to everyone, even to those who are here illegally?”  Some love to paint themselves as morally superior neighbors, but are loathe to do the hard work of studying, supporting, and, when appropriate, critiquing immigration law for the sake of the long-term stability and equitability of our nation’s immigration policy.  Still others are so concerned with safety that they see threats where, sometimes, there are none and take a by-any-means-necessary approach to security, even when the security measures they support harm innocent people.

Taking into account all of these concerns, though difficult, may just offer us a path forward that will be legal, reasonably safe, and neighborly all at the same time.  Let’s see if we can’t find such a path – and then walk it.

September 11, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Safety in a World Full of Terror

Police tapes off Parliament Square after reports of loud bangs, in London

Credit: Time Magazine

First came a ban on most electronic devices – including laptops and tablets – on flights into the United States and United Kingdom from certain Muslim-majority countries.  Then, last Wednesday, terror struck London as Khalid Masood, a British-born citizen apparently inspired by online terrorist propaganda, drove an SUV into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge, leaving four dead and forty injured.  After crashing his vehicle outside Parliament, he ran, fatally stabbing a police officer before he himself was fatally shot by law enforcement.

Certainly, weeks like these remind us of the fearful reality of the world in which we live.  With the continuous news of terror attacks and warnings, it is no surprise that when Chapman University surveyed Americans concerning their fears, 41% said they were afraid of terror attacks while another 38.5% admitted they were worried about being the victim of a terror attack.

It can be frustrating that, despite our best efforts, we cannot seem to make this world as safe as we might like it to be.  In a day and age that seems and feels scary, here are a few reminders for Christians about safety.

Safety is important. 

Mosaic law set up what were known as “cities of refuge” for ancient Israelites who stood accused of manslaughter.  The goal of these cities was “safety” for these accidental killers (Deuteronomy 19:4), because, if a man killed another man – even if unintentionally – the victim’s relatives might seek the killer’s life in revenge without due process.  Keeping people safe from those who would seek to unjustly harm them, then, was a priority in Israel.  It should be the same with us.

Whether it be the security of our homeland, or the plight of refugees halfway across the world, tending to the safety of others is part and parcel of having compassion on others.  Thus, we can be thankful for the intelligence agencies who seek to keep our nation safe along with the relief agencies who tend to the safety and even the basic survival needs of endangered peoples throughout our world.

We should pray for safety.

The biblical authors have no qualms with praying for their safety and for the safety of others.  The apostle Paul, for instance, knowing that he might encounter some opposition to his ministry in Judea, writes to the Romans, asking them to “pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea” (Romans 15:31).

Martin Luther, in his morning prayer, thanked God that He had kept him “this night from all harm and danger” and, in his evening prayer, thanked God that He had “graciously kept [him] this day.”  In the same vein, an alternate version of the famous children’s bedtime prayer reads:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Guide me safely through the night,
Wake me with the morning light.

Prayers for safety abound.  Praying for our safety, the safety of our families, the safety of our nation, and safety across the world is, at its root, a holy and righteous prayer for peace.  It ought to be a regular part of any Christian’s prayer life.

Safety cannot be our only concern.

As blessed a gift as safety may be, it cannot be our only concern.  Sometimes, we are called to surrender our own safety for the sake of the gospel.  This is why Paul and Barnabas, in a letter to the Christian church at Antioch, honor those “who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).  This is why each of the Twelve disciples, save one, was martyred for what he believed.  A concern for safety that refuses to take a risk for the sake of the gospel does not treat safety as a gift from God to be celebrated, but as an idol that needs to be repented of.  The concern for our own safety must never become greater than our commitment to Christ.

Perfect safety is found only in Christ.

As each terror attack reminds us, we cannot ultimately ensure our own safety.  Only God can.  The Psalmist wisely prays, “You alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).   Paul similarly declares, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).  The Greek word for “safely” in this verse is sozo, the word for “salvation.”  As concerned as we might be with safety in this life, Christ is finally concerned with bringing us safely into the eternal life of salvation.  Thus, we should never become so concerned with temporary safety now that we forget about the perfect safety of salvation, won for us in Christ and given to us by the grace of Christ.  In the words of John Newton’s great hymn:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
 

The safety our eternal home is the safety we finally seek, for it is the only safety that can never be shattered.

March 27, 2017 at 6:18 am Leave a comment


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