This is the origin of all hacking: the awareness of a systemic linkage between input and output, between cause and effect.
My teachers' systems were terminally flawed. Their instructions for how to achieve the highest grade could be used as instructions for how to achieve the highest freedom—a key to how to avoid doing what I didn't like to do and still slide by.
This kind of change is constant, common, and human. But an autobiographical statement is static, the fixed document of a person in flux. This is why the best account that someone can ever give of themselves is not a statement but a pledge—a pledge to the principles they value, and to the vision of the person they hope to become.
This, to my thinking, actually represented the great nexus of the Intelligence Community and the tech industry: both are entrenched and unelected powers that pride themselves on maintaining absolute secrecy about their developments. Both believe that they have the solutions for everything, which they never hesitate to unilaterally impose. Above all, they both believe that these solutions are inherently apolitical, because they're based on data, whose prerogatives are regarded as preferable to the chaotic whims of the common citizen.
The system was designed so that the perceived cost of escalation exceeded the expected benefit of resolution. At age twenty-four, though, I thought as little of the costs as I did of the benefits; I just cared about the system. I wasn't finished.
The 2008 crisis, which laid so much of the foundation for the crises of populism that a decade later would sweep across Europe and America, helped me realize that something that is devastating for the public can be, and often is, beneficial to the elites. This was a lesson that the US government would confirm for me in other contexts, time and again, in the years ahead.
America's fundamental laws exist to make the job of law enforcement not easier but harder. This isn't a bug, it's a core feature of democracy.
In contemporary life, we have a single concept that encompasses all this negative or potential space that's off-limits to the government. That concept is "privacy".
It's because of this lack of common definition that citizens of pluralistic, technologically sophisticated democracies feel that they have to justify their desire for privacy and frame it as a right. But citizens of democracies don't have to justify that desire—the state, instead, must justify its violation.
There is, simply, no way to ignore privacy. Because a citizenry's freedoms are interdependent, to surrender your own privacy is really to surrender everyone's.
Breaking a 128-bit key would take 264 times longer than a day, or fifty million billion years. By that time, I might even be pardoned.
But there's always a danger in letting even the most qualified person rise too far, too fast, before they've had enough time to get cynical and abandon their idealism.
This was the ultimate leap of faith, in a way: I could hardly trust anyone, so I had to trust everyone.