"Why?" is what came out instead.
"We want to be sure that you're what you seem to be.
This is about your security, Marcus. Say you're innocent.
You might be, though why an innocent man would act like he's got so much to hide is beyond me. But say you are: you could have been on that bridge when it blew.
Your parents could have been. Your friends.
Don't you want us to catch the people who attacked your home?"
It's funny, but when she was talking about my getting "privileges" it scared me into submission.
I felt like I'd done something to end up where I was, like maybe it was partially my fault, like I could do something to change it.
But as soon as she switched to this BS about "safety" and "security," my spine came back.
"Lady," I said, "you're talking about attacking my home, but as far as I can tell, you're the only one who's attacked me lately. I thought I lived in a country with a constitution.
I thought I lived in a country where I had rights. You're talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights."
A flicker of annoyance passed over her face, then went away.
"So melodramatic, Marcus. No one's attacked you.
You've been detained by your country's government while we seek details on the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on our nation's soil. You have it within your power to help us fight this war on our nation's enemies.
You want to preserve the Bill of Rights? Help us stop bad people from blowing up your city. Now, you have exactly thirty seconds to unlock that phone before I send you back to your cell.
We have lots of other people to interview today."
She looked at her watch. I rattled my wrists, rattled the chains that kept me from reaching around and unlocking the phone.
Yes, I was going to do it. She'd told me what my path was to freedom — to the world, to my parents — and that had given me hope.
Now she'd threatened to send me away, to take me off that path, and my hope had crashed and all I could think of was how to get back on it.
So I rattled my wrists, wanting to get to my phone and unlock it for her, and she just looked at me coldly, checking her watch.
"The password," I said, finally understanding what she wanted of me. She wanted me to say it out loud, here, where she could record it, where her pals could hear it.
She didn't want me to just unlock the phone. She wanted me to submit to her.
To put her in charge of me. To give up every secret, all my privacy.
"The password," I said again, and then I told her the password. God help me, I submitted to her will.
She smiled a little prim smile, which had to be her ice-queen equivalent of a touchdown dance, and the guards led me away. As the door closed, I saw her bend down over the phone and key the password in.
I wish I could say that I'd anticipated this possibility in advance and created a fake password that unlocked a completely innocuous partition on my phone, but I wasn't nearly that paranoid/clever.
You might be wondering at this point what dark secrets I had locked away on my phone and memory sticks and email. I'm just a kid, after all.
The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing. Between my phone and my memory sticks, you could get a pretty good idea of who my friends were, what I thought of them, all the goofy things we'd done.
You could read the transcripts of the electronic arguments we'd carried out and the electronic reconciliations we'd arrived at.
You see, I don't delete stuff.
Why would I? Storage is cheap, and you never know when you're going to want to go back to that stuff. Especially the stupid stuff.
You know that feeling you get sometimes where you're sitting on the subway and there's no one to talk to and you suddenly remember some bitter fight you had, some terrible thing you said? Well, it's usually never as bad as you remember.
Being able to go back and see it again is a great way to remind yourself that you're not as horrible a person as you think you are. Darryl and I have gotten over more fights that way than I can count.
And even that's not it. I know my phone is private.
I know my memory sticks are private. That's because of cryptography — message scrambling.
The math behind crypto is good and solid, and you and me get access to the same crypto that banks and the National Security Agency use. There's only one kind of crypto that anyone uses: crypto that's public, open and can be deployed by anyone.
That's how you know it works.
There's something really liberating about having some corner of your life that's yours, that no one gets to see except you.
It's a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while.
Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There's nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them.
But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you'd have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you'd be buck naked?
Even if you've got nothing wrong or weird with your body — and how many of us can say that? — you'd have to be pretty strange to like that idea.
Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
It's not about doing something shameful. It's about doing something private.
It's about your life belonging to you.
They were taking that from me, piece by piece.
As I walked back to my cell, that feeling of deserving it came back to me. I'd broken a lot of rules all my life and I'd gotten away with it, by and large.
Maybe this was justice. Maybe this was my past coming back to me.
After all, I had been where I was because I'd snuck out of school.
I got my shower.
I got to walk around the yard. There was a patch of sky overhead, and it smelled like the Bay Area, but beyond that, I had no clue where I was being held.
No other prisoners were visible during my exercise period, and I got pretty bored with walking in circles. I strained my ears for any sound that might help me understand what this place was, but all I heard was the occasional vehicle, some distant conversations, a plane landing somewhere nearby.
They brought me back to my cell and fed me, a half a pepperoni pie from Goat Hill Pizza, which I knew well, up on Potrero Hill. The carton with its familiar graphic and 415 phone number was a reminder that only a day before, I'd been a free man in a free country and that now I was a prisoner.
I worried constantly about Darryl and fretted about my other friends. Maybe they'd been more cooperative and had been released.
Maybe they'd told my parents and they were frantically calling around.
The cell was fantastically spare, empty as my soul. I fantasized that the wall opposite my bunk was a screen, that I could be hacking right now, opening the cell-door.
I fantasized about my workbench and the projects there — the old cans I was turning into a ghetto surround-sound rig, the aerial photography kite-cam I was building, my homebrew laptop.