The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Carson

Universal Surveillance – Worse Than Terrorism?

In Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, an argument breaks out between Marcus and his new social studies teacher on pages 206-211. The logistics of the argument surround Mrs. Andersen’s opening statement to the class, “Under what circumstances should the federal government be prepared to suspend the Bill of Rights?”

Marcus openly engages the teacher and his fellow classmate, Charles, by defending his view that the “Constitutional rights are absolute.” Essentially, he believes that the Constitution should not be interpreted loosely in a way that would benefit the government. The two opposing him, however, firmly believe that it is okay to bend civil liberties so long as it is on the grounds of good intentions.

What stood out to me the most during this argument was when Marcus proclaimed that, “universal surveillance was more dangerous than terrorism.”

This brought me back to our class discussion over the second blog post, which was in regards to student surveillance. The belief that both Mrs. Andersen and the article writer, Michael Morris, had in common was that giving up a civil right, such as privacy, was the only way to secure safety.

Of course, there is no right answer to this debate. Everyone wants to be safe, but at what cost are people willing to secure it at?

My belief is that once someone experiences the true nature of universal surveillance, they see the complexity of the matter. That is why I side with Marcus on this debate. Universal surveillance creates a form of terrorism in itself. Everyone is forced to look over their shoulder and wonder if their actions will be interpreted as terrorism. As seen in the novel, teenagers were able to disrupt a government agencies’ system of universal surveillance. They were able to disrupt travel patterns, “walking identities”, and even create their own network that was practically unbreakable by the government.

My point is, everyone has something to hide – and not all of it involves breaking the law. Our privacy is something that makes us who we are. It gives us the chance to break away from society and digest what has happened during our busy day. Criminals will always find a way to get around the law: it is who they are. That is why a more organic approach needs to be taken to this new era of cyber warfare. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to what that is, but I do know that society would not be the same if we were not able to freely be who we are today.

Is Your Safety Worth Losing Privacy?

What do you value more: your safety or your privacy? Essentially, this is the argument Michael Morris attempts to build through his emotional example of how horrific school shootings and other incidents could be avoided through data mining. He builds this thesis on the back of his statement that “universities must be prepared to use data mining to identify and mitigate the potential for tragedy.”

Like most, I started the article with the title, which is definitely very powerful. The idea of saving lives is always a step in the right direct in my opinion. As I began to read, Morris continued to pull me closer and closer to being totally on board with the idea. Several times he used the analogy of a “crystal ball” as being this omniscient safety blanket for all. These vivid heart-rending examples were what really drew me in. Morris relied heavily on the use of pathos, which is always a good idea for an argument. However, it did create bias that deterred me in more than one way. There were no examples of how this power could be abused, regulations that needed to be in place, or even how information could be misinterpreted. After all, there are no voice inflections over the internet and sarcasm is very hard to convey. Furthermore, for me, emotions alone are not a strong enough reason for the creation of more regulations.

I personally feel that desensitizing the public to agencies accessing personal information creates greater problems down the line. Slowly, our lives are already becoming more and more monitored. I do not believe that another layer is a step in the right direction. Also, by slowly implementing access to a plethora of our information, we further open ourselves up to people we could not even begin to imagine. While the average person would not be able to hop on the a school’s server and steal personal data, it is still a possibility that someone could. Apple was not even able to prevent their iCloud database from being compromised. So who is to say that we are really safe from data mining anywhere?

Both good and bad can be found in everything. I am sure a lot of good could come from data mining for public safety. In fact, I am sure it already exists to some extent and has prevented catastrophic events. However, I feel that once that door is publicly open, it is one that cannot be shut and will root too deep.

The Dangers of Weak Cryptography

For one who is not well-versed in “cryptography,” hearing the word might simply bring to mind the language game Pig Latin. However, Singh is trying to convey, in layman’s terms, that cryptography is not a child’s game for all; in Mary Queen of Scots’ case, it was literally an instance of life or death. The issue at hand is that while encryption is meant to show that one’s guard is up, it actually creates a false sense of security when utilized poorly.

For instance, there has been a time in every person’s life when he or she whispered something to a neighbor in the hopes of keeping the message a secret. Unbeknownst to them, spectators who speak the same language were either able to eavesdrop and hear the secret or possibly even lipread bits and pieces. Yet, to the two that were whispering in their own world, it was as if they had been speaking a foreign language. Babington and Mary were in this same little world, where they had a false sense of reality and security. As Singh stated, this was honestly an unfortunate time for Mary to be communicating through cryptography because the first true cryptanalysts were emerging. The two did little to alter their patterns and believed that only they could read what was intended for one another. The problem is, in an ever-changing world, it is naive to think that one should not have to adapt to remain undiscovered. Like two people whispering, Babington and Mary let their guard down at a critical point of their mission

By trusting her basic encoding system at an essential turning point in the history of cryptanalysis, Mary left herself vulnerable to decryption and was caught openly aligning with the rebels attempting to free her. Had she been writing without encryption, she would not have directly given her blessing for the assassination. Singh wants other cryptographers to be aware that they cannot expect to simply lay encryption over their messages like some form of a safety blanket. If a message is truly meant to be a secret, cryptographers should work to ensure that their ciphers are unbreakable.

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