Typewriters Have No Back Door: Retro Tech and NSA

Written by David Michaelis

Typewriters might be the answers to increased surveillance and digital threat. Germany and Russia are adopting them to keep messages safe. Are you?

aNewDomain.net — Typewriters cannot be hacked. There is no back door to the classic writing device, and that’s why the Russian government is installing new typewriters in key offices. Maybe you want to get off the surveillance grid, too? Do you trust new encryption options offered by Snapchat and Apple?

It’s not just the Russians seeing the security benefits of returning to other, so-called anachronistic technologies. Typewriters are experiencing a revival in in sales and politics. Earlier this year, German politician Patrick Sensburg announced that Germany’s government officials might start using typewriters, as they are seen as an “unhackable” technology.

daily-cartoon the new Yorker online security

Cartoon Credit: The New Yorker

Are we regressing to nostalgic Pre-Snowden awareness and methods of information? Following last year’s NSA leaks, it seems that keeping secrets with the most primitive method is the preferred way: by human hand with a pen or a typewriter.

For Non Fiction and Fiction

It’s not just for security, either:

“Typewriter stores continue to cater to aspiring writers hoping to replicate the styles of 20th century authors. One online store sells portable and desktop typewriters modeled after the famous ones used by renowned writers from Faulkner to Pynchon:

Kerouac’s Underwood portable
Hemingway’s Corona No. 3 and his Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable
Ayn Rand’s Remington Portable No. 3
Joseph Heller’s SCM Smith Corona Electra.”

Triumph-gabriele typewriter

Triumph-gabriele25” by Golf BravoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Are we less vulnerable if we regress into technologies that defined the 20th century? The question this raises is if retro tech truly has the ability to beat the NSA, Google, Facebook and entire surveillance world.

“There is good reason to think that Silicon Valley companies participated systematically, and mostly fraternally, in at least part of the top-secret NSA,” says Counterpunch.

So, these technologies may be worth looking at.

The answer depends on how attached you are to fast moving content and messages. If you slow down to 20th century tech you might beat the “security framework,” but going into the slow lane has its own price. Is it worth your privacy? It may just be another way to call attention to yourself, as in, “What is he hiding?” “He” being the man with a stash of typewriters in his basement, claiming he is clean. Probably nothing criminal, of course.

What do you think? Are old technologies the way to stay out of Big Brother’s sight and reach? I didn’t write this post on a typewriter … but maybe I should have. (This post is top secret, please do not share … )

For aNewDomain.net, I’m David Michaelis.

1 Comment

  • It’s a set of tradeoffs. Besides the problem of distributing typewritten material to a wide enough audience (as here), remember that the government sometimes intercepted and copied mail, broke into mailboxes, and broke into offices to examine and copy files. Just before Watergate, the government was breaking into a psychiatrist’s offices to get dirt on an administration critic.

    On the other hand, vacuuming up volumes of citizen typewritten material isn’t as fast, easy, or convenient as scooping up every day’s internet traffic for an entire population.

    The closest thing to security is a single typed document handed to the recipient, then destroyed. Not an efficient way to operate.

    But for government bigwigs, an interesting way to slow down the spying juggernaut for select communications.