The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: lovekd1

The Importances of Both Stances

As a note-taker, I am a neutral person who simply wants to make sure that the most important aspects of the debate are discussed. With that being said, I have two questions. Has there been a period in history where something similar to this has happened and has gone very badly or extremely well? Exactly what boundaries would the government be allowed to overstep before it is seen as “citizens’ privacy is not always respected?”

I think the first one is very crucial to ask because everyone knows that you must learn from your mistakes. Another saying is that “nothing is new under the sun.” So if in the past, something similar has happened and the outcome was not favorable, it would be very smart to not have it happened again. And according to the second saying, it most likely has already happened, and if it stopped and is not currently happening, was it for the better?

The second question is important because boundaries must be set in place, but with the US being made of different people with differing opinions, these said boundaries would be very hard to establish. There are those who are very open with their personal lives, and does not mind if the government does a little snooping if it means that they are being protected. However, there are some people with secrets (whether good or bad) who just want to keep their secrets hidden. So exactly where exactly is the line drawn to prevent the government from merely occasionally invading citizens’ privacy to comletely abusing their power?

Surveillance is (Definitely and Obviously) Wrong

The potential of FaceApp and even Ring Doorbells were  brought up as being possible tools used to advance facial recognition technology. Dr. Bruff mentioned that a lot of the times, facial recognition is not even accurate, and when asked how he feels about this, Chris Gilliard said that the biggest problem for him is not whether or not it works accurately, but just that fact that surveillance in this way is still bad and wrong, period.

I agree with what Gilliard with this statement. A little earlier in the podcast, the fact that some teens have a “nothing to hide” mentality was discussed, and I have to admit, I personally had (and still kind of do) that mentality, but once you actually realize just how much data is collected from you, that type of belief goes away. For instance, we talked about in class what Gilliard brought up about how if you go on Maps, you can see where you’ve been and when you were there for the past couple of months. A teen or young adult would not normally know about this, but once they do, they are immediately freaked out and like Gilliard said, some of his students immediately turned it off.

Surveillance like that is pretty accurate, however, no matter the accuracy, it is not right to collect data from people’s phones like that without explicitly telling them that you are tracking them. It would probably be seen as common knowledge that a GPS can track where you are going, but I think the “most wrong” thing about that is that the data is being stored up and saved.

If You Discuss Your Business in Public, It’s Everyone’s Business Now

There was one part that stuck out to me in Chapter Two that I understand, but simultaneously disagree with. The statement is as follows:

The default in most interpersonal conversations, even those that
take place in public settings, is that interactions are private by default,
public through effort. For example, when two people are chatting in
a café, they can assume a certain level of privacy. Parts of the conversation may get recounted later, but unless someone within hearing
range was surreptitiously recording the conversation, the conversation most likely remains somewhat private due to social norms
around politeness and civil inattention.

Now, like I said, I completely understand the viewpoint of this. I am not disagreeing with the fact that people automatically assume that their public conversations are private. You are at a restaurant, at the mall, or in any public space with someone whom you know and you guys are having a conversation, of course you do not expect people to be listening on to what you are saying.

I am disagreeing with the concept that this should be the default assumption. I believe that eavesdropping is wrong, yes, however, if you are talking about a matter that you would rather have be private, it is not appropriate to speak about it in public. If I overhear you talking about something and then decide to post about it, leaving out your name to give you some privacy and but including your gender, race, and maybe a guestimate of your age, I believe you would have no right to be upset at me if you happen to come across said post. I think it is the responsibility of the person/people talking about something to decide, “If someone overhears this, would I care?”

You should not be talking about your affair, or your divorce, or your bad financial situation in public if you are not okay with strangers potentially hearing it and possibly even talking about it. Since every human is not a decent person, you cannot assume that everyone will just ignore your conversations in a public area. Personally, I think it is also kind of selfish to have that mindset. Like, no. If you bold enough to talk about it in public, be bold when you see a post about you go viral on Twitter. Keep the same energy.

People Should Be Allowed Their Secrets

I agree with Whitfield Diffie in believing that people should have the right to encrypt their messages to secure their privacy. Would it make sending a simple email a bit more of a hassle? Maybe. However, citizens have the right to be able to hide what they are talking about, and the most anyone else can do is just hope that they are encrypting a message about something legal.

Vanderbilt is able to see the emails that I send and get sent. Similar to when I was enrolled at the University of Alabama, they too could monitor my student email. I would not dare talk about anything that I believed to be illegal or wrong over a student email, but if I wanted to, I should very well be allowed to encrypt my messages. It’s not as if I am actually preventing the school from seeing my emails; they can read my emails, but they just will not be able to understand it unless they have some amateur crypt-analysts on their team who can decrypt my messages.

However, it goes further than just Vanderbilt being able to spy on my email communications. It is not even just limited to communication in general. Everyone has sensitive information in their possession, such as social security numbers and credit card information, that needs to be kept secret. And if they were to be able to use encryption technology, they would definitely be more at ease with having that information on a computer.

The Dreyfus Affair is Quite the Scandal

The Panizzardi Telegram podcast episode was excellent and right up my alley: I love scandals. The speaker’s voice was low and quite mysterious throughout the entire episode, only changing the slightest bit when he would quote something or someone. I really enjoyed this. It really sets the tone for the story, which was basically about how a man named Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused by the French military and sentenced to practically life in prison. After five years of serving, they decided to hold yet another court case for him and he was found guilty again. However, he eventually got his freedom back. Anyways, when given the details of the story, it is way more suspenseful than the summary made it seemed to be.

Besides the voice, the other thing I liked listening to was the music. It was classical music played softly in the background, which I also think helped set the tone because the event took place in 20th century France. It also just wasn’t random and famous classical music. The flow and sound of each song played seemed to have gone perfectly with what he was speaking on at that moment,

One thing I picked up on was how he transitioned from one topic or one story plot to the next. He would eventually come to the conclusion of one topic, the music would continue to play then wane out for a few seconds. Another classical composition would began and then he would began talking. I personally just loved the way it flowed and the pauses between each point. It made it a bit more dramatic, and then with the song choices, you could kind of feel where the story could be going. Overall, it was very good, and very well put together.


Great Mind Games, Britain

As discussed in the book, initially, the British were quiet and low-key when it came to the fact that they could decode Germany’s messages during the first world war. But then, Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy decided to let it be known that they knew how to break the codes all along. Upon learning that their codes could be broken, the Germans began to invest their smarts into the Enigma machine technology. So should the British just have stayed quiet about their decoding abilities? Personally, I say no.

By letting Germany know that they could decode their messages after the fact, I believe it could have made the British feel as if they established some type of superiority over Germany. Such as a taller person dangling an item over the head of a shorter person, knowing that the shorter individual cannot reach it. It’s like a “Na-na-na-boo-boo,” moment for the British. They were so proud of their achievement, of course they were not going to stay quiet about it for too long.

And even then, it is not as simple as to say that they were just proud. They knew that it would give Germany this kind of doomed feeling even though everything was revealed after the fact. Germany must have been so secure with themselves, so secure with their encrypting strategy only for them to find out that their messages could be decoding the entire time. It is like a punch in the gut, believing something of yours was great all along only to be proven that it is not really all that good. Maybe I am reading too deep into this, but I believe there could have been some type of psychological aspect to this, and if this was done just to play mind games with Germany, it was smart.

But then it led to the creating of the Enigma machine, which was maybe not particularly great, but great mind tricks, Britain.

The Panopticon Metapaphor isn’t All That Bad…. Sue Me

In the 18th century, philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, meant for prisoners to be monitored by an all seeing guard, who himself, could not be seen. Comparing this to surveillance now, particular regarding the internet, even thought the metaphor is kind of bad. It is not too far off of what could be happening.

Anyone and everyone who is using the internet knows that their usage habits are being monitored; if you do not not know, now you know. It is called data mining. That is why when you are on Forever 21’s website shopping for dresses, you see Forever 21 dress advertisements on Facebook not even minutes after you have clicked off of Forever 21. This technically fits in with how a company, whether Facebook or Forever 21, is watching your online activity similar to how a guard is watching several prisoners.

I am also going to take this time to compare internet users to prisoners within a Panopticon. Our data is constantly being mined and our usage being monitored, however, we cannot really do anything about it. Before using most of these websites, we usually make an agreement for said website to do so. This is similar to how prisoners cannot (and will not) do much about a guard watching their every move.

Now in relation to the government being said guard and internet users being “prisoners,” the Panopticon metaphor is not the best. Although there are a vast amount of theories out, there is not an “all seeing government.” At least not within the United States. It is completely possible for the government obtain information about a person if they absolutely have to, however, the government is not constantly watching millions of citizens.

To sum it all up, Panopticon metaphor for data mining? Good. For government surveillance? Bad.

The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil

Except in this case, nothing “evil” is really happening, unless we are talking about the 7 Deadly Sins. Then Greed would be the only evil.

As stated in The Code Book, the Beale Ciphers have been tried to been cracked by many experts within the field of code breaking and puzzle solving for years, but yet, ciphers have not been unscrambled. Even though this is true, the ciphers are still trying to be cracked today. Why? I believe there could two reasons as to why.

First one, easy: the money. Supposedly, one of the cipher leads to a great treasure worth millions of dollars. And in this day and age of inflation, costly healthcare, and expensive housing, who would give up the chance to be a multimillionaire Even before there were problems as big of these, money was still money. It means no more working if you did not want to; you can start that business, purchase that car, build your dream house, etc. just because you went on a treasure hunt and actually found the treasure. If you believe you are possessed with the right skills to decipher a message, then there is not reason not to take a crack at it.

The second reason would have to be because of curiosity. Humans are naturally curious. Everyone has had that “But what if?” thought cross their mind more than a dozen times when choices were made. What if Cinderella had not lost that shoe? Or Snow White ate that apple? What if I stumble on the treasure by sheer luck, ignorant to revealing the ciphers? What if I have the mental capacity to decipher the ciphers and just need a few days, weeks, or months longer? The question can also tie into the last point: “What if I become rich?”

Now the two reasons can obviously go hand in hand, but the money reason would be the most logical. The world revolves around money, and who wouldn’t want more of it? Even if it may takes years to get it, it would pay off for somebody.

Experience Causes Little Change to Drew’s Beliefs

There was a part in the book where soon after Drew, Marcus’ dad, is upset about being pulled over for no reason and patted down, his anger eventually dissolved and he continued to argue with Marcus, supporting what Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was doing. I found this especially strange and interesting. You would think that after experiencing the invasion of privacy and violation of rights that Marcus had been trying to tell him about, he would be fully opposed to what DHS was doing to the citizens of San Francisco. However, if anything, it seemed have made him support DHS more. I believe that he reacted this way because he was trying to look on the bright side of things, as most people would when they are going through tough times or even when they are being oppressed. His train of thought seemed to have been “I made be seen as guilty everywhere I go, but if I know I’m innocent and I stay innocent, actual guilty people are being arrested through this process, so it is okay.” Only a few people in the believe seemed to have demonstrated the same type of attitude, but usually after people experience what it feels like to be oppressed, their entire attitude and perspective on a specific idea or belief changes if it opposes the shared perspective of the oppressed population. When this particular scene happened in the book, I actually read over it several times to make sure what I thought was happening actually happened. Drew Yallow’s opinion on DHS switched for only a short period of time before he adopted his initial beliefs again, and defended them even greater.

Data Mining: It’s Already Happening, So Why Not Push It Further

In the essay “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” by Michael Morris, the central argument is essentially that a variety of online platforms already use data mining to see what they should advertise to users; since this is the case, why not allow colleges and universities to use the same technology to see if they can identify when a student is showing unhealthy, worrying, and potentially dangerous through their internet usage?

At first, when I had begun to read the essay, I already had it set in my mind that colleges and universities being able to see what students were doing was an invasion of their privacy, simply because it is so easy to abuse that power. But after I continued reading, Morris made points about how shopping sites and social media platforms already data mine, and that quickly changed my viewpoint.

Just as I can Google dresses and later have dresses advertised to me on Facebook, students can shop for guns or stalk faculty (like Morris said) and have that information available for their university to see. And even though this is not one hundred percent full proof or guaranteed to prevent tragic events from happening on campuses, it is still a good step to assuring a little bit more safety and security on campus.

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