The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: khanmm

Why do we even need privacy?


Throughout the novel “Little Brother”, the author Cory Doctorow touches on quite a number of intriguing themes and ideas. In Chapter 4, the protagonist is asked to unlock his phone, but he refuses to do so, not because he is hiding something illegal or potentially incriminating, but simply because he thinks that some things (like his phone’s private data) should be seen by him only - no one else. “The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing.”, he aptly says.

I found this to be a really interesting idea in the book because it dealt with the question of why one desires privacy in the first place. If there isn’t anything essentially ‘wrong’ about the things we keep private, be it family photos or personal messages conversations, then why do we shudder at the idea of someone else having access to them. This is essentially the dilemma the protagonist faces when he is asked to unlock his phone. He hadn’t done anything illegal, but letting the people from Homeland Security invade the bastion of his private life (i.e. his mobile device) just didn’t feel right. The author then writes about an analogy comparing informational privacy to nudity – there’s nothing deviant with the idea of being nude, everyone does it, but being naked in front on an audience would certainly be considered rather ‘weird’ and awry - no matter how fundamentally normal it is. Some information, regardless of how innocuous it may be, is to be known only by the person that it belongs to. Perhaps, this conclusion is perfectly articulated with the quote, “There's something really liberating about having some corner of your life that's yours, that no one gets to see except you.”


Protection over privacy?

In the essay “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Morris advocates data-mining – the intensive practice of algorithm-based computer programs monitoring data and looking for potentially awry or suspicious patterns during information exchange.

I stand by the author’s point of view, as I believe further mitigating the chances of horrendous acts of terrorism (like some of the clearly preventable ones we’ve seen in the past) taking place and subsequently saving lives is much a graver issue at hand than someone’s mere online privacy protection.

With the internet serving as practically a marketplace where sellers and buyers interact, the former party is always feeding on information from consumers, be it product preferences, shopping records or even just a customer’s browsing history. The same degree of privacy intrusion could be utilized for security purposes to study data exchange on networks and look for potential red flags – an example of one such event could be an online chat between two friends discussi­­ng the illegal purchase of a semi-automatic rifle. Perhaps, key loggers or other similar recording software could look for certain keystrokes and key phrases that alert specialists to intrude that network. In my opinion, this level of surveillance is necessary, as long as the power to monitor data is only limited to a few, responsible hands, so peoples’ privacy could not be misused by other people.

Respecting privacy is important, but if that cloak of secrecy is so thick that it gives someone the power to perform malicious, behind-the-door acts, without anyone finding out, then a check and balance is absolutely crucial.







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