Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: security vs. privacy (Page 1 of 2)

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?

Is There an Answer?

Looking at this display from the Newseum, the thing that stood out most to me on the board was the person who wrote that they would sacrifice “some privacy.” Personally, this makes me wonder what part of privacy this person was referring to. Were they referring to texts, phone calls, emails, their location, or something else? Where is the line drawn? When does safety overrule privacy, and when does privacy once again become the priority?

It seems to me that there is a very fine line between what we are and are not willing to sacrifice for safety. For example, one person wrote that they wouldn’t want the government to have access to their location. Another person wrote that they would sacrifice “as much as necessary to feel safe.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to define an amount of privacy that everyone is willing give up for safety’s sake. Something that makes one person feel safer, such as mass surveillance of internet search histories, may cause someone else to feel less safe and uncomfortable. In cases like those, who do we choose? Either choice causes someone to feel unsafe. Which person’s safety is of a higher value?

Perhaps the answer is that there is no answer. Perhaps it is impossible to have everyone feel safe at the same time. Some will claim that mass surveillance and legislation like the Patriot Act make people safer. They help the government to catch terrorists and others who intend to inflict harm. However, these methods make some people feel less safe. If the government or anyone else was to abuse this power, or misuse this data, there could be serious repercussions. Is there a line that can clearly be defined; this is an acceptable invasion of privacy, but this is going too far? Until we can answer this, the debate of security vs. privacy will continue.

What Are the Differences Between Giving Privacy to the Government and to Our Campus?

After the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism became the FBI’s primary mission. But in order to catch terrorists and thus increase national security, the FBI expanded its intrusion into our personal lives. Therefore it again comes the argument over privacy versus security, which seems quite similar to the campus data-mining case we discussed before. Interestingly, while I refused to give up any privacy last time, I believe the government’s access to some of our privacy is justified as long as it will not compromise our rights of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Ensuring nation’s security is extremely hard, because the government has to beware all aspects on its lands that may have security loopholes. Only with the data-mining and digital surveillance, the technologies that can span the country to watch on people’s moves, the government is able to prevent bad things from happening, and take immediate action in case of terror attacks. The campus security, however, is relatively easier to be maintained. Since the campus is merely a small community, rather than infringing students’ privacy, the university can instead increase the number of its security guards, thereby achieving nearly the same safety purpose.

Additionally, giving our privacy to the government’s security departments is much safer than to non-governmental institutions. In other words, the FBI is more reliable than others because it is one of the US leading security agencies in which almost all its officers are selectively recruited and rigorously trained so that they are well capable of keeping our personal data safe after examining it. However, when it comes to non-governmental institutions, it is reasonable to be paranoid that our data may be leaked; criminals may easily hack into the database of a university, but few of them can invade the FBI’s security systems. The FBI can actually protect us from terror attacks with the control over some of our private data against criminals, and thus we should make a concession to exchange some privacy for the nation’s security.

The Need to Establish a Common Ground

When the 9/11 attacks occurred on American soil, the government had to respond in a certain manner to ensure the safety of its people. Based off of an argument brought up by Cory Doctorow in his novel Little Brother, I agree that the government first has to protect the safety of all citizens above anything else. Therefore, the government's action to look into previous phone calls and other similar information I believe is justified. While I also advocate for privacy rights, technology has such an affect on globalization that the government would not be able to ensure these terrorists were brought to justice if they did not search through these messages.

However, my concern is: when does this investigation stop? The government can be justified for looking to catch the terrorists and their accomplices, but how do we know that once they are found the government will stop peering on our personal data. The answer is that we don't. It is this sole reason that causes me to deter the allowance of the government to have access to this technological data. At times our rights have to be compromised to ensure our safety, but when will we be certain that we will ever be fully safe again. It is arguments like this that continually give the government justification to continue their investigations through people's private matters.

Therefore, I would grant access to the government for these investigations if I could be assured there would be a set termination to the investigations. For example, if the information could not be found after a few months, then it would be halted. I believe this serves to establish the perfect medium between ensuring privacy rights while also ensuring the safety of the citizens of the United States.

The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

This weekend marked the start of NFL football season, and for an avid fan like me it's one of the most exciting weekends of the year. However, I want to talk about what happened before the games rather than what happened during them, specifically the national anthem. At the close of each rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, the words "The land of the free, and the home of the brave" are sung." Those words, that I've heard dozens, if not hundreds of times, took on a different meaning when I thought about my recent reading of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

In the society of Little Brother, the "land of the free" simply is not that; rather it is a land of oppression, violations of rights and tyranny. Following the detainment of Marcus and his friends, Marcus is accused of being involved with the terrorist attack simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result, many of his basic rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are taken away. Marcus even says on page 55 "you're talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights." These rights are fought for every day by men and women who risk their lives to keep this the "land of the free." Once we lose our freedom, we lose everything that America stands for.

On Page 56, Marcus says "The truth is I had everything to hide, and nothing," which immediately had me think about our discussion in class the other day. One of the arguments in favor of Vanderbilt surveilling our data was that "if he we had nothing to hide then why should we care." We should care because this is the United States of America. Because this is indeed the "land of the free" and certain freedoms are guaranteed to us by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. My counterargument to anyone who says we shouldn't care about our privacy being compromised if we have nothing to hide is to ask them whether or not they would be consent to the government searching their dorm, or their house every day; nearly everyone would object. I believe that our digital footprint should be treated the same way. After all, this is supposed to be the land of the free, and that freedom should extend to all aspects of our lives.

"Hooded Gas Mask" — Just Another Google Search

If my reaction to Chapter Four could be summarized in three words, they would be “hooded”, “gas,” and “mask.”

Separated, those are just three innocent words, but if you put them side by side, suspicion would loom over your head as if you were its shadow. “Suspicion… by who” you may be wondering. Well, in my case, it could be the suspicion of those who monitor the internet here at Vanderbilt University, and in a day and age of heightened concern over public safety, that is not the kind of attention you want directed at you.

You see, although those three words can be read back in Chapter Three, it did not peak my curiosity to google them until I had reached Chapter Four. There I was at 2:00 A.M. on a Friday morning looking up images of hooded gas mask — not necessarily something your average college student would need. To me, I was merely being curious, but somebody else may have thought otherwise; they may have thought I was planning to recreate the tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech several years ago.

Once I became self-aware of how weird it was for me to be googling “hooded gas mask,” I closed all my tabs, deleted my history, and reverted back to my daily browsing of Reddit.

Unfortunately, Marcus did not have this opportunity, for he was caught “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Trapped on the scene of America’s worst terrorist attack while unrelatedly being a tech-wiz as well, Marcus was detained by Homeland Security for being a possible threat to the U.S. After an uncomfortable ride by truck and boat, he and his friends were taken to an isolated location. There, he was asked to unlock all of his gadgets and logins, one by one — each unlocked gadget or login granting him an additional privilege. First, he was asked to unlock his phone to which he wanted to say “no,” but he eventually complied. The next day,  he was asked to unlock his email to which he complied without resistance. Then the day after that, he signed some papers (hesitantly) and was released from custody, but his interrogator made it clear that Homeland Security would continue to watch him.

Throughout just a few days,  Marcus endured a terrible scrutiny of his entire life — all because he was “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” If Vanderbilt had just endured a similar tragedy that the U.S. did in this book, would I be subjected to a similar treatment just for looking up “hooded gas mask” out of curiosity? The thought is unnerving.

I have always been a guy to say that we should put security over privacy without question but not after finishing this chapter and certainly not after the finishing book.

Getting Our Priorities in Order

“The role of government is to secure for citizens the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that order. It’s like a filter. If the government wants to do something that makes us a little unhappy, or takes away some of our liberty, it’s okay, providing they’re doing it to save our lives,” (Doctorow, 209). This is an excerpt from Little Brother, a novel by Cory Doctorow. At this point in the story, a DHS approved social studies teacher, Mrs. Andersen, has replaced Ms. Galvez, the regular teacher. Mrs. Andersen is explaining the Bill of Rights to the students from the DHS perspective.

Protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “in that order” is not only useless, but dangerous. If your first concern is always to protect your life above all else, then you shouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Think of all the terrible accidents that could happen, just by getting out of bed. Not that staying in bed is much safer, what if a tree falls on your house? When you sacrifice liberty and the pursuit of happiness due to fear, you are no longer living at all. If the government has the right to take away your freedoms at will, as long as they can claim to be “protecting life,” then there is no government action that is unjustifiable.

This is an obvious example of the slippery slope between privacy and security. If the Bill of Rights is treated as a set of guidelines, then what is to prevent ideas like these? The framers of our Constitution did not intend for the Bill of Rights to be flexible; these rights are absolute. When they become less than that, we open ourselves up to the tyranny that those rights are meant to protect us from. It’s time that we recognize this, time that we truly get our priorities in order, before it’s too late. If the government has unrestricted access to all personal data, then we have failed to live up to the ideals that make this country what it is. Even in the name of remaining safe, of preventing terror, we will be causing it. Innocent until proven guilty could quickly become guilty until proven innocent. If we prioritize security over privacy, it may not be long before we are living in a world like that of Little Brother.

Private ≠ Illegal

“The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing.” (Doctorow 56)

Doctorow provides us with many interesting ideas in his novel; the one caught my attention the most is Marcus’s comparison between living without privacy and using the toilet in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, where people can see you naked for a while. While everyone goes to a bathroom, almost no one wants to share his or her nudity with others, simply because it is something private, something only belonging to our own life. Living under close surveillance is just as creepy as joining naked shows in public.

In a debate of privacy vs. security, perhaps one objection to keeping privacy from data mining is that if people have nothing to hide, nothing needs to be hidden. However, such a thesis is untenable and thus fallacious. Many people have long hold a misunderstanding of privacy, that what people are trying to hide is shameful, or even the proof that they are guilty since it looks stealthy, just as the severe haircut lady says, “honest people don’t have anything to hide” (Doctorow 49).  But the truth is, something private doesn’t mean it’s illegal; or we should never write down our secrets and goofy thoughts in diaries because by doing this, we break the law. That’s also why Marcus is reluctant to unlock his phone for the DHS agents though he has nothing to do with the terrorist attack.

Constant surveillance is nothing new in today’s digital life, but before I read the novel, it never occurred to me that everything about us can be mined via different surveillance strategies. I felt even more unsettled when I thought of the likelihood that all those high-tech surveillance tools would become true and more widely used in the near future, and therefore it will be much easier for the government to keep an eye on each of our moves. While such development of technology is inevitable, I hope that the government still gives respect to our privacy, since it’s part of our own life that we don’t want others to see.

Our Dependence on the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights continues to stand to defend our individual rights within the United States. In Doctrow's "Little Brother" these individual liberties are compromised when a bombing attack occurs in the town. As security in the town of the novel saw a severe increase, privacy rights were jeopardized as a result. In Marcus's history class, there was a contentious debate regarding the suspension of the Bill of Rights at times when safety is more important. Marcus believed that these individual liberties should never be compromised while his new teacher and enemy in the class, Charles, believed that security should always be the priority. They further went on to argue regarding the origin and purpose of the Bill of Rights. While Marcus believed its purpose was to keep the government in check, the teacher and Charles believed it was an outdated form used to oust the Kings at the time when it was created. As a result of Marcus's argument, he gets sent into the principle's office where he is reprimanded for exercising his first amendment in class.

While I have always been an advocate for free speech, my view on privacy rights changed throughout reading the novel. Prior to reading this novel, I agreed that it is necessary to compromise certain liberties in order to ensure our safety. However, learning about all the ways our privacy has been compromised without our knowledge, and the ease in which more of our rights can be infringed upon has caused me to have a deeper appreciation for the Bill of Rights. In specific regard to the Fourth Amendment, while our safety is essential, more government security measures can only ensure our safety to an extent. Furthermore, I found myself siding with Marcus in that America is a place for freedom, and although our safety is vital, once we let the government infringe on our rights there is no assured stopping point. Even if measures do get out of control, the Bill of Rights encourages us to challenge the government to ensure our democracy is kept in check. The Bill of Rights was written to defend us so why work against it?

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