Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: safety

What Do I Have to Hide?

By focusing on what to keep private rather than what to publicize, teens often inadvertently play into another common rhetorical crutch - the notion that privacy is only necessary for those who have something to hide (boyd, 63).

When social media first began to crop up in my household, my parents weren't sure how to react. With crude interfaces such as Myspace, my parents banned their use completely (thought this was a much more relevant issue to my older sister than it was for me). However with the upswing of social media sights such as Facebook and LinkedIn, sights my parents could use and were therefore inherently more comfortable with, our family had to have our first conversations about internet safety.

As a kid my parents were very aware of not only everything I posted but also everything my friends were posting. I distinctly remember one post my friend made about being home alone that had my mother rushing to phone her parents. While I was little, this level of online privacy made sense to me. My parents were obviously worried about my safety, and I was not yet rebellious enough to want to defy them just for the sake of being defiant. As I aged, however, my opinions began to deviate from my parents.

There came a point in my online life when I began to believe that my security didn't matter too much: nothing I did was really all that interesting anyways, if someone wanted to read the FanFiction in my internet history they could be my guest. As Facebook privacy updated, I didn't keep up with my account privacy settings, and my wall became increasingly public. I definitely adhered to the ideology that boyd was describing. For the most part, my views have changed again, but to an extent, I still do agree with it.

As I have become more aware of the information that is being sent out online, or rather the information behind the information (such as location services we don't even realize we are posting), I have become increasingly more cautious about what I post and how I post it. Even if I have nothing illegal or secretive to hide, I would still like to keep the location of my house private to the internet. However, instead of changing my online visibility, I simply edited what I post in the first place. I still don't have very strong Facebook security settings, but I make sure that the posts themselves are not revealing any threatening information. The only things I have to hide are those things which affect my safety.

How and to what extent should we use student data mining?

The author of the article ““Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Michael Morris, suggests that student data mining is necessary in schools and can be used to prevent oncampus violence. It is indeed a controversial topic that is very relevant to us as students. Personally, I’m an international student who have experienced both eastern and western educations; in both cases, students’ networks are totally under the surveillance. I’ve also heard and witnessed a few incidents of the school intervening with students’ online behaviors, and I really start to question whether we have such thing as privacy once we are connected to the Internet.

On the other hand, due to the special relationship between the university/college and the students, certain surveillance of students’ internet behaviors might be needed for safety reasons. But before it is used and heavily valued in universities, one might want to question the effectiveness of this technology. Is that really a tool with such high accuracy? Or in fact students are more often being stigmatized? Also, for those “troubled” students, would they really use the school Internet to search about the “twin Glock 22 pistols”, or email each other about the plan or violent behaviors they are about to pull off? Certain levels of student data mining can be used in universities, but how and to what extent it should be used need to be well considered.

 

 

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Safety versus privacy: what's more important?

In a devastating massacre on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) campus in 2007, a total of 33 lives were lost.  Aside from the calamitous loss of lives, one of the most saddening aspects of the tragedy is that it could have been prevented.

In the article "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," author Michael Morris explains that universities have the ability to access student emails, student internet searches, and student social media accounts through a process called "data mining."  By searching through this information, university officials can predict student behavior and prevent on-campus violence.

I plan to write my paper on Morris' article because as a college student, much of what Morris explains strongly pertains to me and my peers.  I find his article very interesting because both sides of the argument (safety versus privacy) hold compelling arguments.  I hope to explore each side with the goal of determining which is more important.  Student concerns about Internet privacy (even privacy of one's own personal email) are very legitimate, however, university officials' interest in protecting the student body as a whole may be paramount.

 

Opposing Views on Safety

I plan to respond to the essay by Michael Morris, titled “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives.” This essay discusses the potential disasters that could be avoided if universities monitored their students’ data.

I find this essay especially compelling because of the relevant nature of its subject matter. As a college student, knowing that my university could see my internet activity at any time is a little worrying. However, the benefits of doing so make it a valid avenue to make campuses safer.

From one viewpoint, students deserve privacy. With events such as the hacking of big companies such as Ashley Madison and Sony, it wouldn’t be too difficult to hack a university’s system and have access to thousands of students’ personal information. On a smaller scale, it would be possible to target information about specific individuals and use that to blackmail or threaten them, as happened in the media when nude pictures of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence were released. There is a certain danger in allowing universities access to students’ personal data, and the complete ramifications cannot be predicted until it actually happens.

On the other side of the debate, using algorithms to track internet activity could be a major part of preventing violence and crime. The main example in Morris’s essay was that of a student who had bought firearms online, and may have engaged in other warning activities that could have served as red flags for those monitoring those types of activities. In these cases, it would have been immensely helpful to have a system in place that allows universities to monitor student activity.

There are many other factors to consider in this debate as well, from secrecy to censorship. Because of this, I am choosing to respond to Morris’s essay in my first paper.

More than Privacy

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a great read that makes the reader question whether privacy is worth giving up for security. In the third chapter, Marcus is detained and told to unlock his phone and decrypt the files for the government agents. He refuses to comply, citing his right to privacy, but the agents ignore him and tell him he has no other choice and “Honest people don’t have anything to hide”.

This phrase stood out to me and made me think about our discussion in class where the question of security versus privacy was proposed. The argument that we should not be worried about our privacy being invaded if we have nothing to hide is used as a basic argument in favor of security over privacy; however, this passage makes me question that argument. Most people have nothing to hide, but I do not think that this makes it acceptable to take away the right to privacy for everyone. I also think that if one right can be taken away from us, then there is nothing stopping the government from stripping the other rights we have as well. What is the point of basic human rights if they can be declared no longer basic at any time?

This passage discusses our right to privacy, but it also has made me think about the effects of the decisions we make regarding it. If we allow the government to take away one of our rights, then we pretty much give up our rights in general. How we react to the current privacy situations, such as the NSA scandal, will affect more than just privacy, it will determine the level of liberty of future generations.

99% Accurate Means 1% Wrong

One passage that caught my attention in Little Brother was the explanation of false positives and why they cause so many problems in systems like the terrorism detection in the book. For some things, a test that is 99% accurate works great. However, if the test is trying to detect something that is very uncommon in a very large group—such as people who are terrorists, which the book estimates as making up 1/20,000% of a city’s population—then that 1% of inaccuracy begins to cause a huge problem. In a city like San Francisco, with 20 million people, incorrectly identifying 1% of the population as terrorists means investigating two hundred thousand innocent citizens—in order to maybe catch ten terrorists. And, as such a system would likely be far less than 99% accurate, the problem would be far worse.

Things like this are important to take into consideration in today’s society, which is becoming ever more concerned with security and devising new ways to prevent terrorist attacks—even if it means invading people’s privacy. While programs such as the one in the book are not currently in place in America, if an attack like the one on the Bay bridge were to occur there would likely be support for implementing them. However, there comes a point at which, in the name of “defending freedom,” freedom is actually taken away, and that’s something we need to be very careful of.

A Nod to the Opposition

Little Brother, while it is an incredible novel, is also a brilliant argument. The construction of the novel reads like a well planned out, immensely entertaining argumentative essay. Cory Doctorow presents readers with a situation in which privacy is being subordinated, or rather completely ignored, for the "safety" of San Francisco. His argument is very obviously in support of privacy. He does not, however, ignore the other side of the issue. Like an author of a well-written essay would, Doctorow recognizes the stance of the opposition and explains that side through the character of Marcus' father.

In the beginning of Chapter 9, Marcus' father has been detained by police officers after having the identity on one of his tracked cards "jammed," or switched with people who are nowhere near him. At first, he's absolutely furious, which is great for Marcus, or at least he thinks it is, because his father is finally seeing how awful and invasive the security is. Instead, his father is relieved by the idea that the DHS is putting more officers out on the streets to catch the "saboteurs" who are creating the jump in suspicious activity. Several times throughout the novel, passages are dedicated to the reactions of Marcus' parents: his dad defending the DHS's need to protect the city by whatever means necessary, and his mom explaining to Marcus that his father is just scared. Doctorow doesn't really say that Marcus's father is a terrible person for acting the way or believing the things he does, he just works hard, through Marcus, to prove why it isn't the best way to look at the situation.

I found this nod to the opposition highly encouraging in my reading of Little Brother, as I felt as though Doctorow was trying to avoid the kind of blind, all-consuming argument that leads to people discounting what one says. He wasn't trying to say that privacy is more important than safety, or that the government shouldn't protect it's citizens; he was saying that privacy cannot be eclipsed by a need for safety, and that the government needs to protect citizens' rights as well as citizens themselves. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I first started reading Little Brother, but the intellectual construction and content of the novel far surpassed anything I thought I would find.

Illegal Knowledge

In Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, Doctorow discusses the different types of cryptography without going to deep into the math behind it, instead focusing on its modern history and its effect on modern society. In the beginning of chapter 17, Doctorow briefly talks about the recent state of cryptography being considered a munition  and those illegal to create, instead everyone that needed cryptography had to rely on what was given to them by the NSA, even though that cipher was purposely designed to be possible to crack. This meant that banks and corporations all had to use a cipher that was designed to fail, which meant that there secrets could be revealed by anyone as intelligent or with the same training as the NSA agents. The fact that the NSA created a ban on cryptography, which at first makes some sense, is simply  unbelievable because it means that like Marcus Yallow says, "[we] used to have illegal math." This made the passage capture my attention because it connects the over arching theme of what freedoms and rights do we have and ties it with something that we are discussing in class. The length at which the NSA went to block the publishing of a graduate student's paper just because it had a tutorial that had the potential to make a cipher thousands of times stronger then the NSA standard is aggravating because it seems that the NSA would be happier that there was a stronger cipher that they could use, but instead they tried to force everyone to use what they could control even if it made everyone's ciphers weaker because of that. The other aspect of this passage that appealed to me was the  fact that is was another example in Little Brother in which the governtment tried to control something because they believed that they knew what was best for everyone, even when it is plain to see that they were hopelessly wrong.

Image: Shotgun Cartridges by John Gilchrist

 

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