Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: December 2018 Page 1 of 2

Office Hours

Here's my office hour schedule for this week and next:

  • Wednesday, 12/5, 1:30 to 2:30pm
  • Friday, 12/7, 11am to noon
  • Monday, 12/10, 2pm to 3pm
  • Tuesday, 12/11, 1pm to 2pm
  • Wednesday, 12/12, noon to 1pm

Getting Our Priorities Straight

Almost everyone agrees that safety and privacy are two things that people have the fundamental right to enjoy.  Rarely do we hear an argument deliberately stating that either of these concepts should be intentionally disregarded.  In a perfect world, everyone could feel protected from physical harm as well as from privacy invasion.  Unfortunately, however, we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in a society where priorities must be evaluated and sacrifices must be made in order to promote the greater good.

Today, we face a growing prevalence of terrorism and violent crime that poses a threat to national security.  It is important that our government is given freedom to use electronic surveillance because it would allow it to collect information that could prevent these horrible incidents from ever taking place.  If federal agencies such as the NSA or the FBI could monitor people's online behavior, they could identify red flags and potentially intervene before tragedy strikes.  Even if the chances are slim, it's still worth a try.

Some believe that the government would be overstepping its bounds with surveillance like this, saying it has no right to collect personal data.  However, if surveillance has a chance to save lives, one could argue that it is acceptable to use it at the expense of some degree of personal privacy.  As long as you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of.  The primary purpose of any government is to protect its citizens.  It has no interest in snooping around an ordinary person's data, and would not go out of its way to bother anyone who doesn't pose a threat.  Overall, it's important that we have a little bit more faith in the intentions of our government.  We are currently in the midst of an informational arms race.  The enemy is using every resource at their disposal to try to come out on top - shouldn't we do the same?

 

Arguments Favouring Privacy

The debate between privacy and surveillance has been thoroughly explored over the course of this semester. I would like to point out some points I believe haven't received due importance. In Citizenfour, it was revealed that the US government withheld information regarding the several programs which involved spying on its people, actively invading their privacy. This blatant disregard shows that the NSA doesn't view the right to privacy as the paramount and essential right it is. By giving them the right to use electronic surveillance, we reinforce this wrong belief and the abuses to the people's privacy will only intensify.

Secondly, I believe that the phrase "in the interest of national security " is extremely ambiguous and while it seems fairly obvious what counts as national security, it can be easily misused since it will be used to justify hypothetical crimes. Also, if the primary reason for electronic surveillance is national security, it won't be very effective since most situations involving national security are by foreign parties who would be aware of the locations with which the US has surveilling authority.

Lastly, it is important to consider the role played by privacy in our lives. Since privacy is primarily a natural right, it is hard to build legislation around it. In such cases, it is important to not give due importance to how it feels to lose privacy. People often argue that privacy is not as important as safety because they tend to poorly estimate the immense role played by their private space in their day to day life.

 

 

Reasons why Surveillance is Necessary for National Security

I think that one thing I will argue in the debate is the nature of the question. Privacy and surveillance are not mutually exclusive and saying that giving the government the tools necessary to keep our country safe necessarily means that people's privacy is violated. The question itself leads the reader of it to an immediate answer which is unfair to the debate. It could just as easily be written as"Is it worth it to give up one's personal privacy for the greater good of National Security?" This asks the same question but with the bias leaning the other way. The Patriot Act also will help the government track more lone wolf type attacks where without metadata it would be very hard to track them. In a New York Times article, it gives a specific example of a terrorist who was caught solely because of the way the patriot act is designed to catch these people. Based on the Patriot Act it is also illegal for the government to eavesdrop unless a judge warrants it. This is different than data collection, and I will try and argue this distinction in the class debate. I also think that there is the pretty obvious argument that if one life is saved because of this data collection that it is still worth it to do so given the risks/lack of privacy.

The Essence of the Security vs. Privacy Debate

When we talk about the battle between security and privacy, most of the discussion from both sides has to do with one of two topics: the effectiveness of electronic mass surveillance in deterring and stopping crime, or the effect that surveillance has on individual freedoms e.g. freedom of speech/expression. These are the most important questions in the debate, since we all agree that both individual freedom and safety are important, but the debate surrounds the way we prioritize those values and the effects that we perceive surveillance having on them. As a debater on either side of the topic, it is often tempting (and quite easy) to exaggerate the importance of either privacy or security, for example by claiming that by letting the government monitor our phone calls, we are condemning ourselves to an Orwellian future. Obviously, it is possible to live in a free and healthy democratic society where the government has access to its citizens phone calls. So instead of making that extreme claim, it might be more appropriate to simply note that we need to be deliberate and thoughtful about what freedoms we give up, and a similar approach applies to the safety side of the debate.

In addition to these value-driven issues, there is an important practical side to the debate that goes along with the above idea to be judicious in how we relinquish our freedoms, even when the end result is justified. It is important to keep in mind that any powers we grant to the government now are effectively permanent; they set a precedent for future regimes to do the same. So if we are going to give up a freedom in today's society, we should also be willing to give that up in a hypothetical society where our ruler is the kind of tyrant we fear the most. Obviously, our constitution is designed specifically to prevent such a government from coming to power, but recognizing the longstanding effects of our choices today is vital since we can't afford to get the answers to these questions wrong.

Debate Judging Criteria

In the debate tomorrow, I will be judging the strength of each team's arguments based on several criteria.

First and foremost is the clarity of arguments. Teams will be judged primarily on not only the merit of their arguments but whether they can express their viewpoints clearly. Even if a presented argument is powerful, if the idea is not expressed clearly then it will not be considered a strong argument. In addition, conciseness will be considered, as a strong argument should be succinct as well.

Supporting evidence will also be a significant part of the judging criteria. Without sufficient evidence to support a claim, it will be not help support the overall argument the team makes. In fact, an argument without sufficient evidence could likely hurt a team's position, as the other team would most likely capitalize on a weak argument to strengthen their own. However, presenting too much evidence for a claim also is not desirable, because a succinct argument is stronger than an argument supported by a laundry list of evidence.

Lastly, the manner in which teams respond to counterarguments will likely determine how strong their arguments are. Coming up with counterarguments against a claim is relatively easy, but defending a claim against counterarguments is harder and really shows how well a team knows their argument by showing that they considered potential arguments the other side could make. Having strong refutations to counterarguments would considerably improve the strength of an argument.

Criteria for a Strong Debate

I will be a member of the jury for a debate on Monday. There are several things that I expect to see from both teams.

The arguments of both teams need to be well prepared. I want all of the arguments to be thorough and well organized. If the argument is confusing for me to understand, I will be less likely to pick it. I also do not want teams to state the obvious, I want to delve into their topic, and say something that I have not heard before. I want to be compelled by both arguments.
The more unique and interesting a point in the argument is, the more likely I will be to pick it. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than an information that you already know in an argument because it makes the argument boring.

I want teams to have strong counterarguments, and to do this the team must think about what the other team will potentially say. I expect teams to be prepared for counter arguments. To be well-prepared teams must do thorough research for and against their side. Even though the teams need to be well prepared, they need to listen to what the other team says to be able to give a good rebuttal.

Arguments for Pro-Security

In the debate of privacy vs. surveillance in the United States, there are a few arguments that can be made in favor of having more surveillance as a security measure. The biggest and most obvious argument is that it aids in ensuring national security. Without electronic surveillance, it would be almost impossible to catch criminals and terrorists in our technology-filled modern society. At this point, video surveillance would not be enough even the government was somehow allowed to put cameras in our houses. Now that so many of our day-to-day interactions occur on the internet, criminals can communicate with each other with the push of a button. Electronic surveillance of digital devices allows for these communications to be monitored, which makes it much easier to crack down on these crimes.

Another argument for security stems off of the previous argument. When the government says they are collecting our data through electronic surveillance, they may mean just that. Having electronic surveillance helps a lot, but just because the government may be collecting data doesn't mean that they're constantly looking through it. There most likely isn't an NSA agent looking through each one of our texts and our social media accounts. But, one they have reasonable suspicion that a seemingly ordinary citizen is doing something shady, they have the data there, and they can finally use it.

Who Defines the Boundary between Surveillance and Privacy

When I first entered this class, I was very pro-privacy. But after hearing arguments from both sides, I have come to understand that surveillance is necessary. And the argument on our side is not against surveillance, but rather focusing on the word “wide latitude”. What is considered a wide enough latitude? Who is the one to assess that? When the government wants more surveillance that might not have been proven necessary, who is to stop them? The emphasis should be placed on the checks and balances that should be implemented into any surveillance system, and the establishment of boundary between surveillance and privacy.

One might argue that in face of threats to national security, one’s feelings about privacy should be disregarded. I agree that in times of crisis there should be certain measures of crisis. However, it would be a great downplay to say that “privacy” is merely a word or a feeling. Privacy is tightly linked to the freedom of speech. Whoever controls the surveillance controls the information flow, and in our time, information flow is everything.

Surveillance is not harmless because it’s placed in the hands of men. I need not draw any example from history because we can all come to the conclusion that men can be evil. Men could be wrong. Power could be abused. And surveillance is probably one of the greatest powers of the government in our time. Electronic surveillance in the interest of national security is necessary, providing that it’s effective and it’s in the interest of national security. However, the downplay of the privacy of citizens is unacceptable. The foundation of the nation, the first amendment of speech and its free press clause, could be compromised if all privacy is invaded.

Essential Arugements in Security vs. Privacy Debate

As a notetaker, I hope to hear arguments by both sides that provide answers for the more philosophical questions behind the debate. I see both sides of the privacy vs. security debate, but I definitely lean towards privacy. However, since I come from a point-of-view that's on the fence for certain issues, hearing one of the sides provide a really solid answer for one of those heavy hitting points could tip the scale.

One such point for the surveillance side that I myself would love to have a counter for is in regards to the inherent nature of government. Above all, the United States government is supposed to ensure the well-being and prosperity of its citizens. Yet, how are they able to carry this out without having a wide latitude of electronic surveillance? Even the most seemingly normal people can go on to commit atrocious acts, so would it not be in the best interest of the people to be able to keep some watch over the citizens? I am not even sure that there is an exact answer for this because, at the end of the day, the answer comes down to personal belief on a person to person basis.

An argument made by security that I would like to see countered is the fact that those for security seemingly overvalue the threat of terrorism. In reality, terrorists are a rare occurrence, so why should many have to suffer for one?

Overall, I look forward to listening from the sidelines as the topic is debated. The side that can find really concrete answers to questions along these lines will be able to make the best argument in my opinion.

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