- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Boston Globe, May 15, 2014

The Obama administration claims that it has the legal right to kill American citizens, without trial, under certain highly unusual circumstances. And the president has done so: Obama authorized the 2011 CIA drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who had become a top al-Qaida leader. Awlaki posed an urgent threat to the United States, and the administration had legitimate reasons to resort to such extreme measures. Still, the killing represented a dramatic enough departure from centuries of practice that the government should explain why it was lawful. The administration’s legal memos examining the legal underpinnings of the Awlaki case should be released to the public.

That need for a public accounting ought to be obvious, regardless of the author. But some of these memos were written by David Barron, now a Harvard Law School professor, who was recently nominated for a federal judgeship in New England. Barron’s nomination has rekindled the controversy over his so-called drone memos. Several senators, led by Rand Paul of Kentucky, have threatened to block Barron’s confirmation for the seat unless the White House releases the memos. It’s time for the administration to support its own nominee by declassifying the documents.

To some extent, it’s unfair that Paul and other senators are holding Barron’s nomination hostage, since he has no control over whether the White House complies with their demands. It’s also true that, when he authored the memos, Barron was a lawyer offering an opinion, not a policy maker; while Barron may have provided legal sanction for the strikes, he didn’t order them.

Nonetheless, it’s entirely reasonable for senators to consider the memos as they decide whether to support Barron’s nomination. In approving drone strikes against a U.S. citizen, Barron was offering his own interpretation of the law. While it’s always been clear that the military could kill American citizens fighting for enemy forces on the battlefield, the memos expanded the scope of that authority. Seeing the documents themselves would clearly shed light on how he handled an important question of legal interpretation - a key quality in a judge.

In his defense, Barron’s supporters have suggested that Paul and other senators are acting in bad faith, since the White House recently allowed them to read the full memos in a classified setting. But sharing the memos in private is not a substitute for public disclosure, and the administration has offered no good reason why the files should remain secret. Any sensitive intelligence information the documents may contain is now at least three years old. Keeping Barron’s memos secret only creates the impression that the White House lacks confidence in them - and in Barron.

The Valley News of West Lebanon (N.H.), May 13, 2014

Cybersecurity expert Peter W. Singer, speaking at Dartmouth College recently, had some advice for everyone who uses computers: Practice effective hygiene. He wasn’t talking about hand-washing. He was referring to the importance of having smart passwords and changing them often to guard against hackers eager to snatch personal data.

We don’t wish to quarrel with the author of Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know. As the director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., Singer obviously knows a thing or two about Internet safety and security. Devising complex passwords for every commonly used website is undoubtedly a good hedge against online thieves. But other than tech geeks and paranoiacs, who’s likely to follow the recommendation?

The problem with hack-proof passwords is that they’re hard to remember. Very few people possess the capacious memory palaces necessary to store lots of unique passwords associated with frequented websites for such activities as banking, shopping, gaming, social networking, scaling media pay walls, accessing medical records and so on. Who hasn’t been Web surfing only to crash against the words, “Please enter your password”?

This is one reason that so many Internet users, even when warned of the dangers, prefer to keep things simple. As Singer pointed out, the two most common passwords are “password” and a familiar series of numbers such as “123456.” Other frequently used passwords include “qwerty,” ”monkey,” ”trustno1” and “ashley.” Ashley? Google failed to offer a plausible explanation for the popularity of that one.

At any rate, passwords are now part of the furniture of digital living, which involves the ever-present and perhaps increasing risk of theft. Most people will be victims of hackers at some point, according to experts. One of the few precautions is to manage passwords responsibly, Singer told his audience. That’s important, he said, not only to protect one’s personal data but also to protect the security of the Internet itself. The link was clear last month, when a flaw was discovered in one of the Internet’s fundamental security methods, forcing many heavily used websites such as Yahoo, Facebook and Amazon to fix a bug known as Heartbleed. It’s unclear how widely the bug was exploited by hackers or what the implications were for consumers, but personal passwords may have been compromised. Some organizations urged users to come up with new ones.

Our sense is that keeping hackers at bay requires such unending vigilance that most people simply throw up their hands and turn over the keys, metaphorically speaking. It’s no good keeping passwords in plain sight on your computer and little use buying password-protection software, which lets you store user names and passwords on cloud-based servers, which are themselves vulnerable. You could, as some advise, jam on your keyboard to come up with uncrackable nonsense words and store them on an encrypted, password-protected USB drive. But who has the time or inclination for such complication? It seems to us that most people are likely to resist good password hygiene until catastrophic contagion strikes, and digital life as we know it collapses. Pardon the pessimism, but that’s human nature.