The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Illegal Cryptography is Illegal Mathematics

The excerpt in Doctorow’s Little Brother that caught my attention the most and interested me was the very beginning of Chapter 17. Mathematics is an integral part of our society and the technological advances behind its development. Also, isn’t Cryptography just another application of math? So when Doctorow explained that the “government classed crypto as a munition and made it illegal for anyone to export or use it on national security grounds,” it jumped out to me how ridiculous this statement was. The thought of having “illegal math” is like throwing people in jail because they were thinking creatively. The NSA has a standard maximum strength cipher and no one was allowed to create a cipher stronger than that standard. When a graduate student may have created a possible cipher in a paper, the NSA decided to ban the publishing of this paper. Reading about this in Little Brother made me realize the extent of our freedom of expression nowadays. If these crypto wars in the 19th century continued and the government prevailed, then modern advancements in technology would have never have even happened. I believe that we depend more on free cryptography than we may realize because it spawns innovative thinking and creations.


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1 Comment

  1. yehj

    The idea that the government could prohibit math because it is too advanced makes me realize the importance and power of knowledge. Knowledge is a tool of empowerment, but it can also be a dangerous weapon. However, unlike other weapons (e.g. guns and explosives), there are currently no laws regulating what one is allowed to know. The idea that the government can outlaw new discoveries because they are not the ones that made the discoveries seems absurd to me. Instead of spending their effort trying to remove more advanced knowledge, the government should attempt to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. Making math illegal is essentially censorship, which is frequently present in totalitarian states due to the powerful nature of knowledge. As mentioned in the original post, modern advancements could not exist if there was a limit placed on knowledge, and I believe that this censorship is counterproductive.

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