From Lemon Juice to Encrypted Code / Yoani Sánchez

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In the latest chapter in the Orwellian saga on television, we saw a frightened young face talking about how a tourist gave him data encryption software. Much of it, most likely, can be downloaded openly and for free from hundreds of web sites and it is use by individuals and businesses all over the world to safeguard their data from prying eyes. On this Island, however, where every gesture of privacy is interpreted as evidence of a conspiracy, to take steps so that a message or information on our computers is protected has been turned into something obscene and illegal.

Under the same premise, many of the dorms in the Schools in the Countryside had showers without curtains because covering yourself was contrary to collectivism. Reserve came to be profoundly rebellious and keeping a secret diary — where personal events were recorded — was evidence of a bourgeois attitude that ended when the “detachment commander” took your writings and read them in front of the classroom. Even today, few of my compatriots knock on a door before entering and the sport of rifling through the lives of others is not exclusive to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; the entire neighborhood practices it. To violate the intimate circle of a citizen has become such a common practice that no one was surprised when our small screen displayed tape recordings of the phone company’s clients, or photos of the interior of the home of some individual critic.

Now, the new “black beast” is encryption software. The military, who have spent their lives creating codes to safeguard their information, must be very upset because similar technology is now available to everyone. But this new campaign against discretion, unleashed in the official media, clashes with some of the passages in the official epic. If I remember correctly, since I was a child I’ve been told that Fidel Castro wrote with lemon juice — from prison — fragments of his plea known as History Will Absolve Me. I see no real difference between fooling the guards at the Isle of Pines prison with invisible calligraphy — which on contact with heat flowed from the pages — and the act of using TrueCrypt to protect from prying eyes. In both cases the individual knows that the repressive siege will not allow his uncamouflaged voice to travel far, convinced, as he is, that an authoritarian state will shamelessly dig into his life to snatch the last bastion of privacy and mystery that still remains.