The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: privacy (Page 1 of 8)

What Would You Give Up to Feel Safer?

This question posed at the Newseum is a very important one in the world we live in today. Indeed, ever since 9/11 the amount of government surveillance has increased exponentially, threatening our privacy in all aspects of our lives. The formation of the USA PATRIOT Act gave the government the surveil its citizens in the name of preventing terrorism, yet there is still much skepticism from myself and others about whether or not these drastic measures are worth giving up our freedom over. I believe that since this America, we should be entitled to certain freedom that are explicitly laid out in the Bill of Rights, such as the protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Is the government tracking your every Internet search, phone call or text message not unreasonable? I certainly contend that it is unreasonable. I do not consent to the government tracking my every movement because even if it is to save one or two lives, I do not think it is worth it. Sure we could take away every gun and weapon from a citizen and have a dictatorial society to prevent crime but is that the place we want to live? I think America is so unique and so special because of the rights that we have and I do not want to see those taken away. That is why I completely favor measures to increase our privacy and freedom rather than security and surveillance. 

Ben Franklin on Liberty and Safety

The quote by Ben Franklin "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" is in my opinion an excellent statement. I typed the quote into google to make sure it truly was by Franklin and the description that popped up stated that this quote is used many times during discussions about advanced technology and government surveillance. I did some more research on to the quote and in reality Franklin was not speaking of the liberty and safety that we associate the quote with. Franklin was discussing a land taxation dispute and was arguing pro-tax and pro-defense. As stated in the NPR article I read, it is not the exact opposite of what people think the quote means but closer to the opposite than to common belief.

The person who wrote the quote did so without knowing the context behind it but it shows that they are pro-privacy. Benjamin Wittes, the man who explained the true meaning of the quote to NPR, says that he sees no problem with the quote being used in the modern day interpretation. He sees the quote as a form of showing the ongoing dispute between "government power and individual liberties."

I think this is a great representation of what the board is saying as a whole. There are many people that are willing to sacrifice anything to be safe because they believe they have nothing to hide so why not share it. Others think that you shouldn't have to sacrifice any of your rights to freedom, and the last group is those that only see fit to part with "some" privacy. While many have very strong opinions about this topic it is clear from the "all over the place" feel of the board that we see how different our ideas are and the need for discussion on what a good median is.

Feeling Safe

The display in the Newseum asks what people would give up for security. The results are exactly as you would expect. Some people make arguments for pro privacy and there are others for pro security. There is no clear cut answer to this question. One person summed up all the answers in a nutshell by stating "as much as necessary to feel safe". This answer struck me specifically because he used the term "feel safe" rather than "be safe". This implies that there is no definitive answer. The answer depends solely on what you, as an individual, value the most and would be willing to give up. For example,person A may feel safer knowing that their private life is secure from outside viewing. In that case they would not give up anything for safety, as they are already safe. However, person B may feel safer knowing private information can be viewed by outside parties, such as the FBI, in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. In this case, they would grant access to private information in order to give government the ability to use data mining to potentially spot a hidden terrorist. In each scenario, the individual gives up different things in order to feel safe. However, it is intriguing because in person B would not consider the person A to be safe, based on what they value. The display in the Newseum does a fantastic job at portraying the actual complexity of this question, as it highlights that each person has different values and those values govern their stance on this question.

The Great Debate: Privacy vs. Security


The responses on the display varied from milder ones like “some privacy” and “as much as necessary” to stronger ones like “give up privacy for security”. This sort of a spectrum of responses is typically to be expected when it comes to this debate, since the notion of security and surveillance have always been associated with authoritarianism and intrusion, leaving people confused and having them left with the belief that surveillance will always have a negative connotation to it.

The cons of giving weightage to security and surveillance over privacy are brought to light much more often than the pros are; it isn’t fair to always give a biased perspective when it comes to the which one out of the two is more important. Therefore the public fears this “Big Brother” dystopia where nothing is free from the government’s eye. Frankly speaking, people think too highly of how important their ‘private’ information really is; if the government was to make a highly advanced machine to bypass encryption, they would not use it to read my personal emails or my utterly trivial text messages, instead they would much rather use it to track down malicious plans sent between terrorists via highly encrypted online messages. The key point is to realize that eventually the end goal of surveillance and security measures are for our own good and certainly not primarily for hijacking for information. The numerous instances where lives have been saved solely because of surveillance vouch for this statement.

Can you be safe when you make yourself vulnerable?

This display highlights an overly important issue in today's America. The topic of choosing of what is more important, privacy or security, has sparked controversy and heated debate in all parts of our country. I believe the passing of the USA Patriot Act was needed after 9/11. I also believe that the act of terrorism should drive the examination of phones, emails, medical and financial records, but only to an extent. The government should only go after people that show that they can be a threat. This leaves privacy in a non respected state.

Now in modern day America, some people feel that their lives have been intruded on by the government. Their privacy is stripped by the agencies like the FBI and the NSA. Additionally, with the installation of new laws that state that companies can sell an individual's internet history, tension between people that want privacy and the government has reached a peak.

An intriguing question asked by the display is "What would you give up to feel safer?" The answer of course is going to be different for each individual person. This is true every person comes from different walks to life, and the fact that the display asks to share your thought on the topic of privacy versus security is fantastic. This sparks much-needed conversation that will lead Americans to new perspectives on what we want to keep private and how we want to be kept safe.

Privacy vs Secur--does it even have to be something versus something?

On the Newseum board, there are a lot of arguments for pro-privacy. At the same time, there is another compelling argument to take as much as it has to in order to make people feel safe. 

I feel like people come from many different sides when they are voicing their opinions; their personal experiences in their own lives have shaped their beliefs and has compelled them to draw themselves to one particular side of this argument. One interesting point to notice is: why does there have to be a fine line separating pro-privacy vs pro-security? I believe we can have a healthy mixture of both. It’s when people divide crucial and sensitive topics like this into two distinct sides, that conflicts arise. Security and privacy can go hand-in-hand in some cases, but immediately saying that it is a rivalry where one decision should be better than the other forces people to choose sides even though they have beliefs belonging to both sides. Some people are willing to give up a bit of their privacy because they value their safety over anything (maybe they haven’t experienced an invasion of their privacy and don’t know the frustration of that). Some people are very protective of their privacy and believe that our privacy should be something inherent like freedom of speech (however, they might not have directly experienced a terrorist attack or danger where they’ve feared for their lives and know that government intervention will save lives and prevent terrorism). 

In general, we do have a lot of positive vibes on the board, such as “love not hate” and “good not evil.” Also, I found the quote “living life is an honor, don’t take our freedom away” an interesting quote. Here, we see someone who values life and probably also safety, I’m assuming. In addition to that, they also don’t want their freedom to be taken away. Perhaps that’s referring to freedom of having a private life? Freedom looks like it comes in two ways: the freedom in safety and freedom of having a private life. Which one do you prefer? Maybe both?

Feeling Safe is not Being Safe

I value my privacy greatly but I also value my own security. If I were to give up a little of one to get a lot of the other, I would obviously choose privacy in terms of what to sacrifice but the post does not talk about security but the “feeling” of being secure. Depending on how much privacy I would have to sacrifice to feel secure would alter my choice. The feeling of being secure is important when it comes to fear and paranoia but in the long run it’s just a feeling. If you aren't actually protected then you have the right to always be worried no matter what the
circumstances. I think it’s extremely significant that the post did not say “what would you give up to be safe?” I think that the Newseum knew that giving up privacy does not guarantee safety. When presented with this question I thought about a scenario where all my rights were taken in order to be protected and yet I am still exposed. The scenario was unsettling knowing that no matter what I will never truly be safe. Though there can be precautions put in place, at a certain point, exposing yourself and sacrificing your rights does not contribute to your own security.

Necessity is the Mother of Public Use

Necessity is the mother of invention. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that cryptography began to amass a large public following. According to Singh, it was the invention of the telegraph that made the use of ciphers common in the general public. Since telegraph operators had to read a message to send it, those who wished to send more sensitive or private messages had to figure out ways to maintain maintain their privacy. As Singh puts it, “The telegraph operators had access to every message, and hence the risk that one might bribe an operator in order to gain access to a rival’s communications” (Singh, 61). In order to protect their messages, many people began using simple monoalphabetic ciphers to encrypt their messages before sending them. This was more expensive and more time consuming, but the messages were unintelligible to your average nosy telegraph operator.

The public only became interested in ciphers once they had a reason to; they needed to keep their information private. It is much easier to trust that a letter in a sealed envelope will make it to its intended recipient unread than a message sent through another person, although, as seen with Mary Queen of Scots, this is not always the case. Once ciphers became known to the general public, however, they quickly gained popularity. They were not only useful, but also a fun diversion. Victorian lovers used ciphers to send each other notes in the newspaper, the Times was tricked into printing an unflattering encrypted comment about itself, and Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story centered around cryptography, The Gold Bug. Ciphers, albeit fairly simplistic ciphers, were suddenly everywhere. This is why today even schoolchildren will come up with monoalphabetic ciphers like those that had once stumped the cryptanalysts of the world. Ciphers have become a deeply engrained part of our culture.

That being said, there is less of an interest in ciphers among the general public of today. While we still romanticize ciphers and codes in movies, books, and other media, we don’t have the practical crypto graphical skills that we once did. Phones and email have removed the middle man, the operator, from the equation; it appears that there is no need to encrypt our messages anymore. While there is still an interest in cryptography, few people ever go beyond the simple mono-alphabetic or shift ciphers from their schoolyard days.

Needle in a Haystack

In Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, Marcus's father supports the actions of the police saying that Bayesian analysis is a reasonable and logical response. He believes that data mining is key to crime prevention: "'s perfectly reasonable to conduct their investigation by starting with data mining, and then following it up with legwork where a human being actually intervenes..." (Doctorow 109). Drew begins as an advocate for this tactic but when it is taken too far and used to hurt rather than help he quickly turns against it.

This passage is so interesting because it shows a crucial point to the Security vs. Privacy that is so prominent today. The idea behind this type of analysis is data mining is an instrument and not a weapon. The proper use is to help, in the case of Little Brother, police "sort through the haystack to find a needle" (Doctorow 110). However, the police quickly cross the line when they rely solely on data mining to assess every aspect of a person. They lost the human component that makes their work humane. This passage is relevant to so many other topics too. For instance, the discussion about if data mining should be allowed at colleges and universities contains many key points that are touched upon here. Bayesian analysis could be utilized as a tool to help prevent future school attacks. Data mining can be one of the most helpful resources as long as it is kept in check. Long story short, this is an issue that can be argued for ages and that can never truly been answered. It is obviously wrong to use data mining to invade the privacy of an individual, but it gets extremely complicated when it could mean the safety of the majority.

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.”


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