A new type of fingerprint

So I got to the bottom of this BuzzFeed News story titled “Fostering Profits” about for-profit foster care homes.

(Side note — Everyone should read this story. If only to better understand a nugget like this: “When Torrey first started investigating the Alexandria Hill case, he was shocked to learn that foster care is a for-profit business. ‘Money for kids — it’s like a crop, that’s what it is,’ he said. ‘It should not be a business.'”)

But anyways. One of the more interesting parts of this story was actually the reporter’s bylines, which included something called a PGP fingerprint. Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.41.59 PM

So I saw that and I was totally confused by what a PGP fingerprint even was.

I turned to Google for an answer, where I was sent to these tweets:

I spent a few more minutes poking around Google hoping for a little more clarity.

I came across several techie-friendly posts like this and this. This site was ultimately the most helpful. It starts with a fun anecdote about Julius Caesar and ends with some semi-understandable (but still jargon heavy) explainers about these fingerprints.

But I was still pretty confused about why BuzzFeed journalists were using these codes.

Finally, I relented. I went to the Jeopardy! champion for more information. And he was nice enough to send me a very detailed response. You can read the whole exchange here.

So I followed along with the first half of everything he said. The encryption key is used so that anyone with a copy of your public key can send you information that only you can read.

I’m still not totally clear on this part: “However, you need a way to be sure that the public key you’re using *actually* belongs to the person. Publishing a fingerprint, a kind of shorthand abstraction, in a place that’s hard or impossible to otherwise publish to (or in multiple places) lets a sender verify the key before sending.”

But I’ll do some more research and get back to you on that.

I tried to hypothesize why journalists would need these in their bylines and why Jeopardy! winners are excited about this development.

Maybe the story of James Risen has journalists scared that the tips and emails they’re sent will be subpoenaed in criminal trials.

Maybe the dogged reporting on the NSA scandal and the U.S. government’s treatment of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden has journalists wanting to beef up their own security. I’m not sure.

But I suppose anything that’s done in the name of extra security is valuable and worthwhile for all news organizations to look into.

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