The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: November 2014 Page 2 of 3

Losing our Voice


Photo Credit: looking4poetry via Compfight cc

The United State government should not be allowed to surveil its citizens and invade privacy in the interest of national security. The right to privacy was declared a basic human right. Taking that right away will weaken the voice of the citizens and allow the government more opportunity and more reason to increase surveillance in the future at the expense of other rights. This increased surveillance also increases the chance of an abuse of power.

If citizens allow their government to take away one right, then what is stopping them from taking away others on the basis that it will increase security? If a government knows it can get away with infringing upon the rights of its citizens, aware that the majority will not stand up and question them, it will be more inclined to abuse its power with the knowledge it is likely to suffer little repercussion if caught. There is evidence that the government has abused its power, especially when it comes to infringing upon the right to privacy. The government unjustly wiretapped telephone conversations of Martin Luther King Jr. and fed the information to Senator James Eastland, which he used in debates regarding a civil rights bill. Presidents such as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon have been accused and proven guilty of unjust wiretapping (Singh, Ch. 7).

The U.S. government has shown its willingness to break the law and infringe upon the privacy of its citizens, allowing them to surveil the citizens for increased security. Allowing them to continue conveys that it is ok for them to do so. In the end, we will lose much more than just privacy. We lose our voice, our freedom and our rights.

Privacy in Moderation

The debate over privacy and government surveillance seems to present opposite ends of the spectrum. The government does not necessarily need to have “wide latitude” but it still needs some latitude to use surveillance for the benefit of our nation’s security. Completely preventing the government from being able to monitor suspicious activity would be detrimental to our society. Singh talks about the drug dealers, organized crime, terrorists, and pedophiles as the “Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse,” (Singh 305) and how they would most benefit from stronger encryption. Government involvement would allow the possibility of these criminals being stopped. The counterargument is that our privacy is more important, but that argument does not look at the full picture. For example, if there was a terrorist group plotting to attack a city and the government had no power to monitor online activity and thus unable to prevent the attack, we would have essentially sacrificed innocent people’s lives for the protection of our privacy. That is not a fair trade.

Photo credit: “Padlock” by wayne wayne via Flickr CC.

Perhaps it is our individualistic society that fosters this attitude, but privacy should not be prized over people’s lives. Besides, there is value to government use of electronic surveillance. With the number of people that have access to the internet, we have created a sort of virtual society, and as is evident with any society in the real world, crime is bound to exist. A little bit of monitoring could definitely benefit us. If the government is allowed to use electronic surveillance to a certain extent or within specific restrictions, then our privacy would still be protected and the government would still be able to provide national security.

The Importance of Privacy

jeff_golden. Flickr. Creative Commons.

jeff_golden. Flickr. Creative Commons.

The government does not have the right to infringe upon the privacy and security of United State’s citizen. The proposed idea of the government being given ”wide latitude” of surveillance breaches these privacy barriers that are protected by the Constitution. The ability to keep information secure has decreased with the increased use of technology. A face-to-face conversation is the most secure method or exchanging information but is not practical with todays growing world. “The advent of digital technology, which makes monitoring so much easier” fuels the desire to protect your information (Singh 306). This decreased ability to protect your information has led to the creation of enciphering methods on the Internet. The creation of this type of security has aided in the protection of citizen’s rights. These are ways that citizens protect their right to privacy and the government should not be allowed access to their citizen’s private information. The government should be prevented from infringing upon the security of its citizens without reasonable cause and search warrants. Giving the government ”wide latitude” would allow citizen’s rights to be violated. It is the government’s job to respect the constitution and the wishes of their constituents. The citizen’s rights are supposed to be of the utmost importance to the government and the basis of the constitution.

Safer From Government With Privacy

In the newer technological age, cryptography is becoming more and more relevant in everyday life. Unfortunately, there is a down side to this increase in technology and encryption. Encryption helps to protect the interests and communications of criminals and terrorism. The goal is to allow the public to enjoy these cryptographic advances with out letting criminals take advantage of them. Unfortunately, this is very difficult and therefore, some people think that the US government should be given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance in the interests of national security, even if this sacrifices some privacy. In reality, the national government will overstep its bounds and take advantage of its surveillance if it has the opportunity.

Photo credit: 'Privacy' by Sean MacEntee. Flickr. Creative Commons.

Photo credit: ‘Privacy’ by Sean MacEntee. Flickr. Creative Commons.

Singh puts forth the example of wiretapping and the negative consequences of it in the 1960’s. Martin Luther King Jr. was wiretapped and recorded telling bawdy stories. These stories were then played in front of President Johnson and organizations that were debating supporting him. Other stories included President Kennedy wiretapping senators with the concern that they were being bribed. Although it was later determined that the senators were not being bribed, Kennedy was provided with valuable political information to win the bill. Not only does this prove that recording private conversations, whether its over the phone or via the internet, is unethical, it also shows that there is no moral way to trust a government with this power.

Privacy First

The government should absolutely not have “wide latitude” to use cryptography to surveil citizens. Throughout history, the role of United States government has been to protect the rights of its citizens. It is bound to this duty, especially when it comes to protecting citizens from itself. A majority of citizens are not engaged in illegal activities, and they have a right to have their privacy ensured. It is nothing to say that our thoughts are kept private from each other, what good is there in that when the government can, and possibly does, read everything you say? That isn’t privacy. That is something that looks like privacy, but that has a back door for people who have too much access to possibly abused power.

Photo Credit: hyku via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: hyku via Compfight cc

In Singh Chapter 7, Singh mentions that a major concern of the government’s is their continued access to wiretapping, which is supposedly essential to their catching criminals and terrorists, etc. This does not mean that they should have the ability to perform a wiretap on basically anyone, whether or not they have reason to believe someone has committed a crime. There is no way to no whether the people who would be given “wide latitude” to surveil citizens would only do so in the name of national security. Also, as Singh mentions, “in America in 1994 there were roughly a thousand court-sanctioned wiretaps, compared with a quarter of a million federal cases” (Singh Ch. 7). Wiretaps that are not essential to the majority of cases cannot be the basis on which Americans cede their right to privacy. Never in history has the government had such invasive means of gathering information, and they should not be given such capabilities now.

Privacy Rules

The government should not be given free reign to use electronic surveillance for “national security” when compromising the privacy of citizens. I understand that the government would compromise privacy in the best interests of the state; however, the efficiency of the system for trying to find criminals using electronic surveillance is lacking. Little Brother gives us an example at the inefficiencies of searching for criminals by brute force. If they want to find criminals who are attempting to use security systems like Zimmermann’s “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP), they need to know who and where to survey because only by making smart and educated decisions on who to check based on previous records will the government have a good chance at finding these criminals/terrorists.

Instead of prosecuting Zimmermann, the government should have used the benefits of PGP. By informing all normal, law-abiding citizens of PGP, they could have shown everyone how to use this security for their own electronic safety. If everybody had PGP to prevent others from reading their information, not only would the government have trouble seeing it, but also would internet criminals trying to steal their credit card/personal information. Some might think giving everyone the ability the secure their information would give criminals an easy way to avoid being caught by the government. However, even if the government didn’t allow this type of security and heavily surveyed electronic usage, criminals and terrorists would still find new ways to stay under the radar and will still be able to commit crimes. The heavy electronic surveillance and a strict ban on types of security such as PGP would only give the criminals the ability to stay private. This is similar to the debate on the Second Amendment on the right to bear arms. Making guns and other arms illegal only take them away from law-abiding citizens while the criminals still get them illegally.

Allowing privacy for the individuals helps the average citizen because their basic rights are maintained while helping them keep private from hackers and criminals. Compromising this basic right only gives the criminals the ability to work without being under the governmental surveillance. To prevent criminal acts or terrorist attacks, other measures should be made instead of taking away the people’s privacy.


Diego Torres Silvestre, 2005

Diego Torres Silvestre, 2005. Wikimedia, Creative commons.



Security Should Defend Citizens, Not Abuse Them

Photo Credit: 'Goed Zoekveld' by Bart van de Biezen. Flickr. Creative Commons.

Photo Credit: ‘Goed Zoekveld’ by Bart van de Biezen. Flickr. Creative Commons.

The goal of the US government’s security agencies ought to be to preserve a society that values the freedom of American citizens. If those rights must be sacrificed in the interest of security measures, then what have these measures truly accomplished? If the US government were given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance, even if this surveillance was only supposed to be used to find threats to national security, this power would likely be abused. Already, without laws giving permission to surveil citizens, the NSA can and has reached deep into the private lives of individual citizens. If these citizens were individuals planning a terror attack then these actions might seem more justified, but they were not. A recent Wired article about Edward Snowden mentions a document “that showed the NSA was spying on the pornography-viewing habits of political radicals… [and] that the agency could use these “personal vulnerabilities” to destroy the reputations of government critics who were not in fact accused of plotting terrorism” (Bamford, 2013.) This surveillance for political purposes has happened in the past, too: for example, the FBI used a wiretap on Martin Luther King in 1963 and passed the information it gathered on to the anti-civil-rights Senator James Eastland who used it in debates (Singh, 306.) This goes far beyond what is necessary in order to protect the country from those with criminal intentions, and laws expressly permitting the violation of citizens’ privacy would only make it easier for similar events to occur. Rather than defending America, such practices would violate the country’s fundamental values of freedom and democracy.

Privacy is the fundamental right of human

I think the privacy of individual is one of the most important and the most basic right of human. Government can not and also does not have the right to invade the privacy of individual. Every one has his or her own secret, other people should respect him or her. This, of cause, does not mean that the national security is not important. The National security is definitely very important. It protect individual from terrible things. However, this mind could not be controlled easily, which means the government could grabs the right from civilians by the same reason. Because such behavior is difficult to limit, common people might always lose their privacy without perception, like the PRISM.  In this event, if Snowden had not told the truth to the public, American people would have never known this kind of thing happening to them. What is more, surveillance is only a small part of national security, the government could try other methods to improve its ability to protect the national security, so the surveillance is not necessary. By the way, this kind of project could easily become a control to people rather than a protect of people. Thus, compared with national security, individual’s privacy is much more important.

Photo Credit: 'We are legion'by Enrique Dans via flickr

Photo Credit: ‘We are legion’by Enrique Dans via flickr

Problem Set #6

Here’s your sixth problem set: Problem Set 6 (Word) and Problem Set 6 (PDF). It’s due at the start of class on Friday, November 7th. As always, if you’d like some help on the problem set, you’re welcome to email me or stop by my office hours.

Blog Assignment #6

Ghost WriterFor your sixth blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 500 words in which you agree or disagree with the following statement:

The US government should be given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance in the interests of national security, even if that means citizens’ privacy is not always respected.

You should make an argument for or against the statement, and you should support your argument with evidence from Singh Chapters 6 or 7. Please note, for this assignment, you don’t have to actually agree with the argument you’re making–you just need to make a strong argument.

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the “Student Posts” category, (3) give it at least three useful tags, and (4) include a Creative Commons licensed image or a public domain image in your post that somehow (concretely or abstractly) represents an idea in your post. (See this post for some tools for finding such images.)  Your post is due by 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 3rd.

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