The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Violating Rights or Protecting the Country?

Here's the tweet we found:

Here's what we think:

The government, which is governed by the Constitution, does not have the right to secretly violate that document. The Constitution was set up to restrain the expansion of power and protect the rights of US citizens. While times of war have created circumstances in which adaptations or violations have been justified, the people were made aware of these alterations, and were given a voice in the proceedings. For example, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were quickly repealed, due to the immediate outcry from the citizenry. As Snowden expressed in the documentary Citizenfour, the population should be made aware of the government's actions regarding their rights, especially where these actions potentially violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

Collaborator: Emily Struttmann

Hero or Traitor? Or neither? #catlords

Here's a tweet:

This tweet reveals Snowden's focus on the information itself as opposed to his role in releasing the information. He doesn't want to influence how people interpret the revealed documents. He neither views himself as a hero nor traitor; he just felt that it was his duty as a human being to expose the extreme powers of the NSA.

-Sara and Julia

"Literally the Point of Encryption"

Through his sass, Snowden points out that if a government can access encrypted messages, then it isn't really encrypted at all. It's the same idea as cell phone companies providing a "back door" for the government: if the government can get through the back door, so can anyone. There is no "gray area" with encryption; it either works or it doesn't.

-Abbey, Ross, & Parker


Snowden comments on the mass data breach in prison phone calls.

An anonymous hacker leaked material that implicates Securus in the violation of constitutional rights of inmates. Over 70 million conversations, some of which were between inmates and lawyers, were collected by Securus, the company which is in charge of phone services in prisons and jails. This proves that Securus could possibly be violating client-attorney privilege.

This parallels Snowden's actions with the NSA as an individual is exposing a governmental flaw that could be infringing upon rights and breaching citizens' security. He undoubtedly supports this #hactivism as it reveals otherwise unknown and unattainable information to the public eye. This leaves us asking the question - security or privacy?

Written by: CN, CG

What is Privacy?

"the failure to reach consensus on a definition of privacy may be frustrating to some, legal scholar Daniel Solove argues that each approach to privacy reveals insight into how we manage privacy in everyday life" (boyd, 59).

The above quote highlights an issue that we have peripherally mentioned since the beginning of this course. We have focused on privacy versus surveillance, or privacy versus security. We have alternated using surveillance and security because it is hard to pinpoint exactly which of them to which we are referring. However, although a slight majority of the class is on the side of privacy, we have not debated the use of the word privacy. We also haven't reached a clear consensus on privacy as a class, which is interesting to me. How can we be so sure privacy is the word we want to use if we don't have an actual definition of the word in the context we wish to use it.

boyd lists three different definitions of privacy, and although they are all similar in some ways, they are all definitely different definitions. I am also interested that the three definitions she list are all presented by people in law. I do not wholeheartedly agree with any of the definitions, and I'm sure that there each member of our class has their own personal definition of privacy. Technology experts would have different definitions, and I suspect that each privacy-oriented career would have individuals with their own definitions.

How can we continue to debate privacy versus surveillance or security when we do not have one clear definition of privacy for this debate? I do not believe that this debate will ever be settled, but I also think that it will be even harder to be settled without clear definitions for both sides of the issue. The definition of privacy was not something that I had previously considered before reading this work by boyd, but now I am extremely interested in its definition.

The Need for Privacy Creates a Facade

In It's Complicated, author danah boyd says, "Issues emerge when teens start to deceive in order to keep the truth private.  But by and large, when teens share to create a sense of privacy, they are simply asserting agency in a social context in which their power is regularly undermined.  The most common way that this unfolds is when teens systematically exclude certain information from what is otherwise a rich story" (75).  Boyd explains that to maintain a certain level of privacy, some teens feel the need to share snippets of their lives on social media, in order to evade questions from their friends.  However, this pressure to share often leads teens hide other, darker parts of their lives.

boyd uses the example of lesbian, gay, or transgender teens who create online profiles that make them appear straight or abused teens who share "extravagant stories" to hide the truth of what is really going on at home.  I was deeply affected by this passage because of an event that occurred last January.  A female distance runner, a girl I had known from high school, committed suicide.  She had been attending the University of Pennsylvania and was a member of the cross country and track teams.  After her death, discussion surrounding her use of social media to hide her pain spread.  Her Instagram account featured photos of her with teammates, smiling and having fun.  Her final post, which was posted just an hour before her death, was a picture of christmas lights in a park.  These photos created an image of a happy college-girl.  Based on her social media posts, one would never be aware of the struggles that she was facing.

The culture surrounding social media in modern day society is one of controversy.  Adults argue that teens are sharing too much, while teens, on the contrary, limit what they post with the hopes of maintaining privacy.  The desire to have privacy leads teens to create a false online persona, skewing the image of their reality.  Sharing the best aspects of one's life has become a social norm.  The pressure to share simultaneously generates the pressure to hide.

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The Right of a Citizen

The passage in Little Brother that caught my attention was the debate about halfway through concerning the moral implications of breaching citizens' privacy in the name of security. Marcus ends the debate by quoting from the Declaration of Independence, that it is "the right of the people to alter or abolish" any government that is no longer "deriving just power from the consent of the governed" (Doctorow 180). This novel was published in 2008, before the NSA and Edward Snowden scandal, and in some aspects of the story this is very obvious. The NSA is skimmed over the few times it is mentioned, and it seems to be an impenetrable fortress of hidden information - not so today, after their secrets were published for the world to see.

Though it was to a far lesser extent than in the novel, when the news broke that the NSA had been collecting phone data from millions of Americans people were outraged. Though some privacy has to be given up in order to ameliorate security, such a blatant breach of privacy was something the public was incredibly incensed about. To be American citizens and have the security afforded by such government organizations as the NSA, CIA, and FBI is one thing, but to be secretly spied on by one's own government was another matter entirely.

Due to the public's outrage, the NSA was forced to start changing some of its policies, which is a living example of the people's right to change the government if it is not benefiting them.

Progression is Activism

Although at first I was a little miffed about the idea of reading an entire novel over break, but it was actually a pretty relaxing read and some points the author made were really thought provoking. Sometimes I felt he was trying to be too hip - I suppose this is a common occurrence in a lot of teen fiction - every time I read "total horn-dog" I was thinking, "what?" But that's neither here nor there. There were a number of quotes that I really thought about, like when Marcus was arguing for the absolute protection of the Bill of Rights, and the total non-professionalism some of the authority figures in the book seemed to exude, but Marcus also pointed out something very important. "I can't go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself." Inspiring, isn't it?

Truly, nothing will be accomplished by passivity. The constant activism and solving problems is what propels movements forward - awareness will get something started, but there must be steps taken beyond that. Cryptography is similarly a constantly evolving subject, requiring analysis that is always considering different options and perspectives. It couldn't progress so efficiently if cryptanalysts were always waiting for other cryptanalysts to decipher notes themselves - and in many cases, that's exactly what they don't want to happen.

The Allies Work Better Under Pressure

It is no secret that Allied code breakers bested German code makers during World War II which contributed enormously to an Allied victory in the war. Germany's overconfidence in the strength of its Enigma cipher definitely contributed to the Allies' code breaking success, but another main contribution was the pressure that Germany forced against the Allies. The Allies were on their heels trying to defend against Germany, which led countries to band together and individual cryptographers to band together to fight a common enemy. The necessity for the Allies to break Enigma in order to thwart the Axis' attacks brought Poland, England, France, and America together which gave them the resources to crack Enigma and Purple (Japan's encryption method).

Without the pressure the Axis powers were putting the Allies under, they would not have felt the urgency to break Enigma and Purple. The Allies won this war on intelligence because they were on the defense and needed to break Enigma and Purple in order to turn the tables against the Axis, while the Axis got complacent and confident about their machines because they were able to advance through Europe and the Pacific without their code being decrypted. Since the Allies were under such pressure, they had to find a way to gain the advantage. Therefore, countries such as Poland and England teamed up and individuals such as the mathematicians at Bletchley Park teamed up to crack the Enigma and Purple ciphers. Without the pressure that the Axis' exerted on the Allies, the Allies would not have been so desperate to find any way possible to crack Germany and Japan's seemingly unbreakable ciphers.

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The Uncomfortable Truth

Time always progresses, despite any actions you might take. Quinn Norton points out a startling and uncomfortable reality: even after undergoing extensive security precautions or making every possible effort to remain secrecy, any information you provide on the internet will one day become public. As long as time progresses, your data is never truly secret. Time will always prevail.

In "Hello Future Pastebin Readers", Norton effectively addresses the fact that all her private conversations and information will soon be public. This fact becomes more and more relevant every day, as we continue to rely more and more on our technology. Many of us plan out our entire daily routine on our phones, utilizing various calendar apps and social networking platforms to plan out events and communicate with others. We've been driven to accept that our "private" information will remain private, hidden from the prying eyes of others. Yet we struggle to realize the vulnerabilities of our security. Eventually, our information will become public, open to the scrutiny of others. As Norton notes, it doesn't matter if you're rich and famous or relatively unknown, this private personal data is the same for all. All people, from the average human being to the biggest celebrities, must realize that it is only a matter of time until it is all released.

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