The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Surveillance and Freedom of Speech: Should the U.S succumb to an 1984 type of Society?

Put simply, surveillance is a systematic way of searching for a flaw in a pool of data and when a camera is pointed at somebody, they knowingly change the ways that they act and even think while they are being watched. The idea that you are being watched is suggestive that you are already guilty of something; if you were left alone in a room with a chair, table, and a mirror on the wall, you would become suspicious that your actions within the room are being watched and will be under scrutiny. Surveillance actually creates a great deal of paranoia and this has many deep implications.

Since we are granting the government a “wide latitude of surveillance” we can give them the power to access our social media. This especially will impact activist groups that heavily rely on the power of mass communication that social media platforms have. If the government had a greater capacity to monitor what activist groups plan or say, wouldn’t the groups begin to feel pressure from the presence of an authority figure watching over them and suppress some of their own communication. Surveillance now becomes an issue of free speech rather than a tool to help us improve our own society. If every embodiment of a thought such as a text, tweet, email or status update is looked upon by an institution that installs fear in us at time, isn’t our free speech inhibited?

A good comparison to make in this situation is the Chinese Social credit system. It is first important to note that the Chinese government has different expectations then the United States government, their tradition is more focused on promoting good social behavior. However, we should believe that if a similar system for monitoring the public is used, the government will have its own agenda as well. We cannot ensure that politics will eventually play a role in how we are being watched. How will surveillance affect conversations of complicated topics such as gun control or planned parenthood? Our country has people with opinions across a wide spectrum of values, surveillance would aid in suppressing people with specific views and bring social reform to a halt. With a “wide latitude of surveillance”, this reality isn’t very distant, and once we allow the government anymore access to our information, we will never be able to undo that large digital leap of faith.

Is cyber crime a worthwhile reason to keep the internet more secure?

One of the most surprising aspects of the radiolab episodes was the concept of the Botnet. Essentially these botnets are pieces of software that connect and can control groups of hacked or infected computers. Smaller botnets would control over 1000 computers, while larger ones could dominate over millions of computers. It’s hard to imagine that somewhere, somebody sitting in front of their computer has access to a whole city’s worth of computers. I started to wonder, is my computer in any way part of one of these botnets?

The threat of cyber crime is larger than that of an invasion of privacy by the government. While the government can create and monitor your metadata and keep track of some of your movements, cyber crime actually harms you either financially or through actual attack and destruction of your data. The thing is: that for either of these two situations, it is difficult to know that we are being watched and much less by whom. With it is so easy to become infected with a virus and even become a part of a Botnet, it makes sense to view the internet as a terrifying sea full of danger. With privacy and security in mind however, would a better crackdown on the internet actually inhibit these cyber crimes? In discussions about privacy and security, it might help to also talk about the benefits of creating a safer environment for the internet.

Teens, like adults, Make Their Own Choices Reguarding Privacy

In the section, Privacy as Process, boyd identifies a new argument that,  “In a world in which posting updates is common, purposeful, and performative, sharing often allows teens to control a social situation more than simply opting out. It also guarantees that others can’t define the social situation.” She introduces the idea of the choice that teens have regarding privacy and how to overcome issues regarding how much one should or should not share. A teen has the choice to share some, but not all, of their information on social media to avoid further invasions of their privacy in real life. This logic can be extended to all the ways that teens choose to incorporate social media in their lives. I agree with the view that monitoring of teens’ use of social media should be determined by the teens’ choice. Many parents and teachers often forget that teens are people as well and have greater abilities than they are given credit. With that I understand the choices that some teens make to encrypt or hide some of their messages on twitter; these teens are enacting their fundamental rights to decide how to communicate their ideas, conversations, and feelings. Any unwanted surveillance on this communication Is an attack on the trust adults have on these young adults and the decisions that they make.

Digital Encyption: Modern Day’s Most Important Luxuries

Strong public encryption greatly benefits the general public. The ability to send all your messages with the knowledge that it is secure and will only be read by the recipient is a modern day luxury. One of the arguments against strong encryption points out that if you don’t have any secrets to hide then your should feel safe sending your emails without encryption. However, a intangible benefit of encryption is that feeling of security. If we knew that all our messages, actions, and conversations were watched by the government or some stranger, we would not feel comfortable to speak our minds and act on behalf of  our own identity. We would feel the need to create an identity that performs actions and sends messages that are compliant with the rules. Free speech is obstructed without strong internet encryption. Singh’s book mentioned how Zimmermann received many thank yous for posting PGP because they were now able to “create resistance groups in Burma.”

Secondly, if strong encryption was cut off from the public, would society be more safe. The government would like to argue that more criminals and terrorists would be caught without encryption techniques, but without any protection of the general public’s data, a lot more havoc will happen to more people. Digit information is the most important part of our lives, and if it was all unprotected, it would be the equivalent of leaving all your doors and windows of your house open while you are away. We need strong encryption for our safety and privacy, the government has to catch criminals without hurting everyone else.


Podcast Issues: Manuvering Through Describing the Topic of Stenography.

The podcast, Something Out of Nothing, discussed theories that believe that Shakespeare did not any of his sonnets, poems, or even plays. The speaker dives into the presence of cryptography in a lot of Shakespeare’s writing; the speaker gathered information about a unique cipher that utilized a substitute key and a form of stenography to embed messages within Shakespeare’s writing. I found it interesting how the speaker described Francis Bacon’s Bi-literal Cipher within the podcast and with a single visual aid as the SoundCloud cover image. Without the visual aid, the description of the five letter long strings of a’s and b’s used to code each separate letter would not have made sense to me. Furthermore, she included the techniques used to hide the cipher within plain sight and brought a relevance to the use of stenography in Shakespeare’s writing in comparison to other classical writers of that time. I appreciated how in depth the description was during the podcast, and how she carefully worded her description to not use heavy and technical words that could confuse me or other listen.

While the podcast did not use much audio clips from different speakers, the director of the podcast included some music breaks with appropriate music to fit these specific high intensity moments. These breaks offered the listen both a short mental break to absorb the information and to ponder some of the thoughts that the speaker just said. This discussion about stenography seems to interest me and I would like to have my podcast about some sort of modern stenography and utilize audio clips and more external resources.

Admiral Hall’s Choice to Consider the Long Term Threats to a Nation.

Admiral William Hall decided to keep the information that the English broke the enciphered Zimmerman telegram a secret because he believed that the knowledge for decrypting the telegram would be an asset to the them in the near future. Those who were thoughtful of the future such as Admiral Hall would believe this choice to be ethical. This choice is very strategic and could be useful if the Germans continued to pass similarity sensitive and important information with the same encryption key. Having the ability to decipher these messages could save the lives of many civilians if the Germans eventually decided to attack. Through this lens it is reasonable to consider the decision as ethical because it is in the interest of the public and benefits their well being.

However, when considering the immediate importance of the content within the Zimmerman telegram, it makes sense that the choice to withhold the information seems unethical. The sensitive information about unrestricted U-boat warfare and threat of Mexican aggression posed immediate harm to many civilians in American and at sea. Hall’s choice seems indifferent to the lives current at stake and prioritized the future of a nation more than the nation’s current safety. It can be argued that the welfare of the nation’s future is dependent on that nation’s present welfare and that Admiral Hall should have responded with more urgency to the immediate threat to the people. His choice can be seen as ethical or unethical depending on what one prioritizes more.


Security vs Privacy: The Level of Surveillance Divides Advocates of Pro Security

When I looked closely at the various responses on the whiteboard I noticed that the people who advocated for surveillance held different opinions about the intensity that our surveillance has on people’s data. Some people in this pro surveillance group believed in a strong surveillance systems and wrote things such as “text messages and phone records” and “as much as necessary to feel safe.” I usually argue pro privacy on these debates and what I believe is that the government may define one aspect as a flaw and deem it dangerous to the public, while the public who is being watched by the government may have a different opinion about what is flawed and needs to be addressed in order to stay safe. By comparing these two ideas from the whiteboard you can see that this idea holds true between advocates of surveillance. While one person may feel comfortable with donating their privacy of their text messages to keep the country safe, another person may see that watching our texts is not necessary to keep us safe. Realistically I do not think that the government will continue to increase the level at which they monitor the public because people have strong opinions and are willing to speak up if they experience that think is wrong. In our country, people stand on every point of the spectrum just how the whiteboard illustrates. It would be very difficult to convince a large enough portion of the country to support surveillance to a certain extent.

Encryption Strengthens as Human Technology Improves

By the mid 19th century, the skills and techniques used to break simple monoalphabetic substitution ciphers or keyword ciphers were well known between coder breakers. Tools such as frequency analysis were vital to decoding messages, encrypted messages intercepted through Morse code had no chance of staying secure. Messages needed to be encrypted with a stronger mechanism such as a polyalphabetic substitution cipher that could render a normal frequency analysis obsolete.

My first thought of modern communication that required a major change to keep our communication secure was email. Primitive computer messaging had little to no security, and once there was a realization that digital messaging would become popular, the communication programs had to be equipped with the tools that could keep each user’s data safe. These encryption processes had to be security enough to withstand the code breaking technologies now. For this reason stronger encryption systems such AES 3DES have been developed to maintain the user’s data safe. The algorithms we have developed turn any piece of user inputted data such as a password, message, or personal information into a string of characters and send that string through numerous systems until the data reaches whatever the intended recipient is. In way we have created two types of communication, one in which humans communicate with technology and second where one piece of technology communications with another. It is interesting to think about all our modern communication like this because we cannot see the latter form. We cannot also know what happens to our data in route to the receiver, that is why sometimes we take precautions that hopefully secure our data and maintain our privacy.  Other times we take risks and our private data can be accessed through some third party technology.

Little Brother Data Mining Exaggeration?

Not long after Marcus is released, he was followed by two police officers and was arrested for taking unusual trips at unusual times using the BART.  Because Marcus’s fast pass was able to collect data on where and when he took trips, a computer algorithm incorrectly marked him down as a possible criminal. When he was brought home in handcuffs his parents talked the police out of incarcerating him. Following these events, Marcus and his father argued on the role of data mining algorithms. Marcus believed that the police are ineffective to deal with the ‘haystack’ of data that data mining algorithms sifted through. On the other hand, his father believed that it was beneficial to have data samples of everyone so that abnormal patterns could be detected and questioned.

Taking a stance on data mining and its accompanying algorithms is not easy. Depending on the context, my view would relate closer to Marcus’s side or his father’s. One example that has been brought up in our class was when our credit card companies freeze our accounts. On an international trip, a few expense will trigger the computer algorithm to freeze the account. These algorithms are in place to compare your expenditures with your previous patterns of spending. This system is in place to protect the user from fraud, and it is beneficial because it causes very little inconvenience to the user. Another example of data mining is how companies use their customers’ data to develop custom marketing strategies. Companies want to be successful and to do this, they wish to brand their product to any type of consumer. This might be seen as a benefit to companies but it does infringe on the public’s privacy. The controversial aspect is how specific companies choose to survey people, Google for example is though to have used ambient sound from their users to generate ads.

There are not many inconveniences of data mining, the important matter is the level of privacy that the data contains. Sensitive data is not usually used in these data mining algorithms and the data mining framed in the book is a exaggeration of what could possibly happen if surveillance extends too far. The systems we have in place now and are currently being developed are assets rather than obstacles.

How far should school surveillance go?

Morris’s argument appeals to the emotions of his readers starting when he describes a horrid event that we all are very familiar with: school shootings. He notes that these deadly school shootings come with a fair amount of warnings and if the correct people saw these warning signs hidden among the internet, they could have take the opportunity to prevent many campus massacres. Morris logically believes that if a university provides access to the internet, email, and high tech equipment, the university does have the power to also monitor the students’ activity to some degree. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa) has been one of the largest reasons that the topic of students’ internet privacy has been untouched but in the wake of more school shooting Ferpa is making changes and Morris believe that schools should now take advantage of these revolutionary data mining algorithms and prevent further shootings.

I agree with Morris’s overarching argument that school’s have a duty to protect their students from another potentially dangerous student. However, using data mining tools that could take account of students recent Google searches, recent social media posts, and even personal information would not be the best approach for a variety of reasons. While I do argue that too much of the students privacy is being infringed upon I like to view this issue from a different perspective. If a larger university uses a data mining tool to keep track of 15,000 students for example, all the data I mentioned before is being funneled through some algorithm that is running on one or multiple school owned computer systems. This facilitation of data that the school is now in charge of is not secure. Just how 100% security is not obtainable in our society now, the personal data of thousands of students is now vulnerable. A group of hackers could target the schools data and potential steal sensitive information from large chucks of the student population. Potential the student body would be even less safe. I think that schools should use some sort of surveillance, but also balance the weight of that surveillance with securing the privacy of their students information.

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