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In Certificates We Trust

Google's rejection of Symantec's SSL certificates never made the major headlines but illustrates the role trust plays in society. If you're connected to a bank or the Belmont Club chances are you are reassured by the little lock icon and https indicator in the address bar certifying you are logged into the real McCoy. The site sends your browser its SSL certificate, signed with the private key of a trusted certificate authority and the browser uses public key of the authority to verify if the certificate is real. Then it displays the lock.  If the browsers mistrust the certificate it emits a warning instead. When Google determined Symantec's Latin American partners had issued 30,000 certificates without proper verification Chrome developers degraded the certificates, potentially displaying "not secure" instead of a lock and a big red slash drawn through the "https". Within days Symantec sold its business.  Lose the trust, lose a billion dollar business.

The collapse of Symantec's trust certificates underscores the weakness of authority systems. Who guards the guardians? Google checked Symantec but who checks Google? Today authority is under question as never before.  When authority systems are mistrusted even the physical facts become doubtful. The Independent cites authorities who claim "climate change could soon make it fatal to even go outside in some parts of the world." A billion people could die says a Guardian article:

Extreme heatwaves that kill even healthy people within hours will strike parts of the Indian subcontinent unless global carbon emissions are cut sharply and soon, according to new research. Even outside of these hotspots, three-quarters of the 1.7bn population – particularly those farming in the Ganges and Indus valleys – will be exposed to a level of humid heat classed as posing “extreme danger” towards the end of the century. ...

Their previous research, published in 2015, showed the Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will also suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, particularly Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran.

But if we people don't believe these authorities there will be problems.  For instance voters may refuse to support the Paris Agreement. A global system needs "settled science" and "real news" to reach consensus in the same way SSL trust certificates are required for online banking. Without trust interactions freeze up.  The hidden cost of allowing the media to issue dubious credentials to charlatans is it has raised the costs of political transactions to prohibitive levels.

That's not the only cost the complex One World has unconsciously imposed. Theodore Dalrymple argues the rules -- even for physicians -- are now so complicated a kind of lawlessness is breaking out. "Where there are so many laws that even highly specialized lawyers have difficulty in keeping up with the provisions in their own area of specialism, the rule of law declines ... This superabundance of laws exists in many places around the world today ...  It makes them the arbiters of our existence. It also makes the rest of us wards of the court."