The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: September 2018 Page 3 of 9

The Balance Between Privacy and Security

On the whiteboard, there are several phrases that are indicative of opinions that side with either privacy or security. Most notably, there is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that reads “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” In this quote, Franklin seems to express a pro-privacy viewpoint, and is saying that people who give up the essential right to liberty and just blindly go along with any policy that takes away privacy in the name of security should have neither privacy nor security. There are also other snippets that express pro-privacy viewpoints, such as “don’t take our freedom away” and what seems like “…fear of freedom being taken advantage of.”

On the other hand, some phrases supported a pro-security argument. “As much as necessary to feel safe” suggests that the writer is willing to give up all of their privacy if it meant adequate security, which is similar to the view that Marcus’s dad holds in Little Brother. Another quote that stuck out was “we have nothing to hide,” which is a major argument that pro-security activists use. If we have nothing to hide, then theoretically we shouldn’t fear surveillance, but who’d want surveillance watching our every move, even if the actions are completely normal?

Another thing I noticed about the whiteboard is that for the most part, people used it as a medium for expressions that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Many people just wrote their name or their Snapchats, or the numerous generic quotes about love, hate, and life. On an unmoderated forum, it’s in human nature to say whatever they want as long as they know that they will remain anonymous. It also shows that a lot of people simply don’t really care about the whole privacy vs. security debate, and would rather write something completely irrelevant to the question than express their opinion on the topic.

The Fine Line Between Surveillance and Privacy Invasion

The Newseum display encourages people to consider the issue of privacy versus security and asks us what we would be willing to give up to feel safe.  There are many interesting responses on the whiteboard underneath the display, but the one that stood out to me the most was the Ben Franklin quote, which reads, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” While we can assume Franklin did not say this with modern technology and its possible implications for government surveillance in mind, the core message can still be applied.  Essentially, this statement suggests that personal liberty is a fundamental necessity that should not be sacrificed under any circumstance, which can be interpreted in support of the privacy argument.  If people knew, or even just thought, that they were under constant surveillance, they would likely behave differently, even if they weren’t doing anything wrong.  They might begin to feel like they don’t have ownership over their own lives.  Like Marcus says in Little Brother, being subject to surveillance is like pooping in public.  You’re not doing anything illegal or immoral, but it’s still unsettling.

Personally, I agree with Franklin’s point that liberty should not be sacrificed for safety, but I don’t think that means government surveillance is completely unacceptable.  To an extent, the government can collect information on the general population to look for potential safety risks in a way that doesn’t make us feel like we no longer own our lives.  For example, I wouldn’t mind if the government had access to information such as my purchase history or even my location history, since I wouldn’t feel the need to worry about keeping them private as long as my behavior is legal.  However, I would have a problem if they snooped through my personal ideas in the form of text messages or private note files.  I consider those worthy of being kept private.  If a stranger had access to my personal conversations and thoughts, I would behave differently and feel less in control, even if I’m not doing anything wrong.  Basically, I draw the line where the information collected stops being rationally useful for promoting public safety and begins to threaten my personal liberty for no apparent benefit.

America on Privacy vs Security: Give up Everything?

The Newseum’s “Voice your Opinion” poster on privacy versus security definitely drew some interesting opinions. While some chose not to take the activity seriously, some of the insight was actually very constructive.

On the security side, most people did not elaborate on their statement. I read a few that were essentially, “Give up privacy for security.” There were also several hipster comments that were about spreading love and not evil/hate. Two particular comments stood out to me, however. One stated to “take away as much as necessary to feel safe,” and the other stated, “Everything, we have nothing to hide.” The first thing that I would love to know is, who made the comment? What background do they come from? Have they always lived in the United States? I feel like one’s upbringing has much to do with formulating an opinion on this matter. Regardless though, these two comments really shocked me because I find it very hard to believe anyone would be okay with the government having total control. In my opinion, the first comment is very nieve. There is literally a part of our brain, called the amygdala, that processes emotions such as fear. I wonder if this person would next suggest that we sever this part of our brain until we do not “feel” at all. There is no way to totally prevent uncertain/unfavorable emotions such as safety – even in a Utopia.

The privacy comments on the poster were equally as interesting. For instance, one person said, “Living life is an honor, don’t take our freedom away.” I appreciated this quote for its simplicity. Life really is a privilege, but one can only take advantage of it if they are free to do so. Which ties into Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This quote is very interesting because he had no way of knowing anything about technology, yet he created such an iconic phrase that can be applied to it.

The High Price of Safety

I believe that the whiteboard exhibition at the Newseum was nothing less than a work of art. While it appears to be a forum for people to share their viewpoints, it also shows the array of opinions held by different people with different mindsets. Just in the given display, we see one person uncomfortable with sharing his location and personal texts while another finds it reasonable for the government to go through his phone records and texts. Another still uses a quote to imply that giving up your privacy for security makes you unworthy of both privacy and security. Such conflicting viewpoints serve to be an illustration of just how difficult it can be to find a reasonable compromise.

To answer the question asked by the display, I feel that I am comfortable with giving the government as much information as they need as long as it bears no repercussion in my day to day life. If the the government can guarantee that the information will remain confidential, I don’t see why I should be bothered about a stranger going through my phone records. The only flaw I see in adopting the aforementioned approach is the implications of the false positives. Given the current state of technology and surveillance, the number of false positives generated would cause a majority of people to face intervention by the government even when they are innocent. This can be problematic as it directly counters the ideas of safety and security since these victims can feel targeted by the very government they chose to protect them.



Compromising: The Best Solution to a Difficult Problem

On the privacy versus security display at the Newseum, the responses to “What would you give up to feel safer?” run the gamut from those who feel that they have nothing to hide, to those who believe that privacy is too important to sacrifice.

However, the Benjamin Franklin quote in particular caught my eye since I had never heard that before, and I thought that was a striking way of summarizing the pro-privacy position, especially hundreds of years before the advent of electronic surveillance. After a quick Google search, it became clear that his quote has been misused. He wasn’t speaking about government surveillance at the time; instead, Franklin’s letter was about a tax dispute between the state legislature and the colonial government during a period of French and Indian attacks. In fact, the “essential liberty” Franklin was referring to was not an individual liberty, but actually the freedom of the government to provide security to the people. In this way, Franklin’s argument has been fundamentally misunderstood; if anything, he is clearly in favor of the government ensuring the security of the people, although his stance on the relative importance of privacy is unclear.

The majority of responses on the board though don’t fall strictly on one side of the debate. They think it is best to strike a balance between surveillance (i.e. security) and privacy. Even the most radical advocates of privacy or surveillance must recognize that this is the most likely outcome in reality, since outspoken members on both sides will push back against the efforts of the opposite side once they try to tip the scales too much in their favor. I thought this was the main takeaway from the exhibit: there are people with strong convictions on both sides of the argument, and they will all fight for what they think provides the most benefit. Even if only one side can be correct in theory, in practice, we must strike a delicate balance between surveillance and privacy to keep everyone happy, free, and safe.

Newseum Privacy vs Security Debate

I thought that this photo was very interesting since it captured a lot of the same thoughts that was as a class had after reading Big Brother. It also reminded me a lot of those word maps/clouds that show the frequency of words in a given text. I saw the word privacy pop up a lot, but I didn’t see so much about Security. Another very interesting thing on the board that was kind of hard to read was the Benjamin Franklin quote. He said that “those who give up essential liberty for a little bit of security deserve neither security nor Liberty.” I thought that this was a very powerful quote that relates to the topic, and I also think that Cory Doctorow would very much agree with it. I think that the governmental agencies that collect data get a bad reputation to a certain extent. I think that it is very unlikely that I have an FBI agent devoted to monitoring my life. What is more likely is that my data is being used to create a large sample of data which may be helpful to them. I forget the name of the trick, and I can’t find it online, but I know that in accounting if the number of 1’s that start the numbers in the books is off by a few standard deviations, then it is likely that someone has cooked the books. Terrorism may be much more difficult, but there may be situations like these where it is useful to have metadata.

What do people find important in the debate over security vs privacy?

The question that was asked on this display at the Newseum was similar to the one we were asked on the first day of class. We were asked if we agreed or disagreed with giving up our privacy for more security. This question takes it a step further, and asks specifically what people would give up for that extra security. There were some expected responses that I saw, like “Text messages + phone records”, “Freedom”, and also a few other random answers that didn’t really contribute to the purpose or message of the display. There were two that I saw that stood out though. One was “as much as necessary to feel safe”. The other was the Benjamin Franklin quote, that said “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety”.

These two responses stood out to me because they seem to fall on the two sides of the privacy vs security debate. The first one reminds me of a few of the characters from Little Brother who were on the pro-security side. Characters like Marcus’s dad and Charles has the same mindset as this viewpoint. Marcus’s dad felt okay with complying with anything the DHS said as long as it made him feel like he was safer. If it cost him an extra 2 hours going to and from work, then so be it. Even the hassle of being stopped by police for no reason was not enough to faze him. As long as the DHS was trying to catch terrorists, any violation of privacy was okay.

The other response reminds me of the argument that Marcus, Charles, and Mrs. Andersen had during their class period. Mrs. Andersen said something along the lines of “our founding fathers intended for the constitution to change over time as viewpoints changed”. The Benjamin Franklin quote makes me feel as if this might not be entirely true, or at least not to the extent of what Mrs. Andersen said. I think they expected times to change, but some things were essential to a well-working government, and one of these was respect of the citizens privacy. On the other side, citizens shouldn’t even have to consider giving up their liberties, but if they were given that choice, the founding fathers still believed that their liberty is more important.


What Would I Give Up To Feel Safer

To be honest, I am not good with the USA Patriot Act, because it means I have no right to hide any secrets. If somebody could look over all my private staffs without my approvement or even without my acknowledgment, I will feel invaded. However, I have to admit that there is terrorism in this world and our safety needs to be protected. The USA Patriot Act is useful to protect the country. The “watchdog” role played by news media and improved power of FBI did protect us after the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, I would like to sacrifice part of my privacy, but not all of it.

What I agree to give up, is the information on everything I’ve done and anything I’ve told to others, like the purchasing record, messages on social media, and all of my identity. In my opinion, these pieces of information are enough for the government to assess my possibility to do some violent behaviors as well as every individual. For example, if someone is going to make a terrorist attack, he has to purchase items like guns or bombs, reach out to terrorist organizations, and leave messages to his partners. One cannot finish a terrorist attack without any clues before in front of the public. To investigate related information is enough to prevent a possible violent behavior.

What I disagree to give up, is what I regard as real privacy. I used to write my diary in the memories of my cell phone. I have never shown it to others because I usually hide my secrets in it. How could it harm others if I let nobody see it? In this case, if the company of cell phone has a monitored plug-in and inspect my memories, I would be annoyed. The same, the pictures in my phone are also my privacy. If you suspect that I’ve hidden terrorist information in my pictures, you could find what I’ve sent to others without inspecting my phone directly. It is my right to hide some secrets in my own cell phone, so I would not give up this to feel safe.

Changing Opinions on Big Brother

The Newseum’s thought provoking display on the questions of privacy and security raise serious questions on the ethical backbone of law enforcement arguments for increased surveillance. My first exposure to this topic was during the summer before my sophomore year. I attended a debate camp at Samford University and practiced speed reading and making quick arguments and rebuttals on the topic of government surveillance.

At the camp many of the arguments made in favor and against curtailing surveillance were the same made in our class discussions. Safety, privacy, and security were all hot words. I noticed truly how much 9/11 had affected our country. People were willing to give up the thing they loved most about a free country, privacy, in order to feel safe. I somewhat agreed with them at the time as, one, I didn’t know very much about the issue and, two, I felt that surveillance could only make a person sneak around if they had something to hide.

Upon reading Cory Doctrow’s Little Brother and participating in subsequent class discussions, however, I found my beliefs to be quite the opposite. I think government agencies surveillance for abnormalities that represent threats is fine, but when the line is crossed into constant nonconsensual data mining, I begin to disagree. The importance of protecting your own space resonated deeply with me and I realized that privacy does matter. A simple analogy that made clear sense was, as Marcus referred to it in the novel, pooping in Time Square. We value privacy becomes it represents ownership. Citizens want to own their lives and control their actions and, like in the panopticon, it becomes increasingly hard to act the way you want to when presented with the possibility of being constantly watched.

Would you give up your privacy to feel safer?

     On the whiteboard, I found an interesting quote from Ben Franklin’s: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” It’s quite forward-looking to make a statement about this question at that time. From the time or age of Ben Franklin, the communicating ways between people or terrorists are not that sufficient. Traditional methods are used rather than using mobile phones or other modern technology. People at that time do not lose their privacy as quickly as we do nowadays. But they have the sense to protect their privacy. Maintaining security should not be the excuse for the government to spy on our privacy. Just as it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to disregard privacy so that we can have safety

       When being asked what will people sacrifice for safety, many words appeared on the whiteboard. Some people said they could sacrifice text or email messages and phone calls records. Some people said they would sacrifice everything since they believe they have nothing to hide. Those data seems meaningless to them, but think about what will happen if the data was left in the wrong hands. What will happen if someone that got into a quarrel with you last week had the location of you or what you are texting about with your friends? These things seem easy to lose, but it’s actually your privacy that should not be collected by someone else. Just ask yourself, do you feel safer after you give up your personal data?

         The FBI law’s law enforcement should be aimed to help people and focus on criminals. They are not helping anyone by spying on the privacy of the public.

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