Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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We the Jury

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard upheld in the United States criminal justice system by which a defendant can be found guilty. Although we will not be conducting a murder trial in the classroom, serving as the jury, there are still certain standards by which I will be evaluating the arguments of the debate. Strong cases can be made for both sides of the question of electronic surveillance in the interest of national security, as we have delved into over the course of this semester. Various opinions on this matter depend on people’s differing political affiliations, prior experiences and moral values. Because attitudes are highly divergent and very personal, debaters often become emotional as they attempt to defend their standpoint. Although passion is very easy to detect and makes a speaker emphatic, it does not necessarily render their argument better. A sound argument, much like in the courtroom, requires hard evidence. There are a lot of unknowns and misconceptions with regards to electronic surveillance because of the secure nature of the act. Many arguments against security make assumptions and suggest hypotheticals about the unnecessary and invasive nature of surveillance. Likewise, arguments for security make assumptions and suggest hypotheticals about the necessity and efficacy of surveillance. As the jury, the only way to make a fair evaluation is to remain objective. A legitimate argument is backed by statistics, facts and hard evidence that can be verified, and as such that is what I will be listening for in the class debate.

Why Privacy is Needed

The US Government should not be given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance on its citizens. The government cites national security as the reasoning behind surveillance, but often times, national surveillance is not even effective in keeping the country safe or preventing terrorist attacks. In 2013, the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies analyzed terrorism cases from 2001 and onward. They found that the NSA’s phone record collection was “not essential to preventing attacks.” The idea of surveilling the entire population to find terrorists has been equated to finding a needle in a haystack because terrorists are so rare and the vast majority of people are innocent.

The government employing surveillance methods on the population also infringes upon American and human rights. The need for surveillance implies that citizens are all potentially guilty, rather than innocent until proven guilty. The presumption of innocence has been declared as an international human right by the United Nations. In addition, the Fourth Amendment states that without probable cause, law enforcement is not allowed to search an area or seize any items or people. The government does not have probable cause to look into our online history, yet they continue to do so.

A Matter of Faith

It’s easy to subscribe to the idea that a government that remains aloof from the business of its people is a good way to safeguard the right to privacy of the individual; modernity is full of examples of what too much government oversight can lead to, from China to North Korea. However, though seemingly analogous, the cases of China and North Korea give no pertinent information as to how increases in the US government’s latitude to watch its citizenry would play out. However, given the current sociopolitical climate of the nation and the state of advancing technology, independent of the examples of other nations, it’s clear to see that the US would actually benefit from increased government surveillance.

One such case where the US population would benefit is law enforcement. One needn’t look further than the case of the Golden State Killer to see how law enforcement can leverage advancing technologies in surveillance and tracking to catch and hold notorious killers and criminals accountable, even decades after the fact. Further, with criminals being able to leverage advancing technologies in order to further their own malicious goals, the ability for police to track and identify threats must increase accordingly, or else law enforcement will be powerless to stop or at the very least mitigate potential damages. Altogether, it’s not hard to see all the potential benefit that might come in allowing the government to leverage advancing technologies in a manner that would increase their ability to watch the populace.

Yet, there still exists resistance to the idea, borne of an inherent distrust of government and its actions. A principle argument against the granting of increased power to the government is how it will inevitably lead to a slippery slope into fascism; as the adage says “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. However, who’s to say that the government of the United States of America is not already too powerful, under that framework. With the largest defense budget in the world as well as an army, navy, and air force that can be mobilized in an instant, no right bestowed upon the individual could possibly stop the U.S. from becoming a fascist state if it so chooses; the events in Hong Kong could as easily play out in New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles should the government as a whole see it fit. So what’s stopping it? Our democratic institutions, from freedom of the press to democratic elections, and many more beyond. So long as we don’t allow increased surveillance to erode away at the fundamental principles that uphold our democracy, increased surveillance will not be the first domino tipped in a long chain of events that will turn the US into yet another totalitarian regime. Rather, it will be a tool to augment national security and keep innocent people safe in an age that seems to grow more dangerous by the minute.

Notes from a Notetaker

To start off, I’ll be taking notes on every argument that is made. Good or bad, sensible or not, I’ll write it down. It will be up to the jurors to pick through this information, deciding which arguments are the strongest, most factual, and most convincing.

That being said, there are some aspects of this debate that it’s crucial we touch upon. First, how effective is the surveillance that those favoring the “security” side argue for? An argument must not be based on hypotheticals. They should include concrete examples of instances in which surveillance has increased security if they hope to convince the jury that security is more important. However, the privacy side must argue more than just “citizens have a right to privacy.” It’s widely accepted that 100% privacy isn’t possible in our country. But what amount of privacy sacrificed is a reasonable amount? Where is “the line” that determines when privacy is violated?  Additionally, both sides should address the concerns of the other side. Each person has different values, and everyone is comfortable giving up different amounts of privacy. Moreover, what makes one person feel “secure” may not make another feel the same. Thus, it’s difficult to craft one policy that pleases the most amount of people. How do we reconcile the opinions of so many people when finding a solution that effects all of them?

It is my thought that the debate will center more around the morals of the statement rather than the legislation. I hope that we discuss what “should” be done, as opposed to what the law may say. However, it will also be important to explore how effective the law has been in preventing privacy violations and promoting security. I’m looking forward to hearing both sides, and copying their arguments into a google doc as fast as I possibly can!

Important Aspects for Notetakers

During the debate, I think the most important aspect is the arguments of the pros and cons. The arguments are the basic elements in the debate; without arguments, there is not a debate to talk about. What’s more, all the examples and personal opinions are developed based on the arguments and arguments are the basic skeletons of the debate which makes them very important for notetakers. After the argument, the example is less important than it, but it is still essential to debate. Examples are the supports for the arguments which can directly show the thoughts of the debaters. Examples can be used to explain the arguments and how debaters defend their position and point out opponents’ weaknesses. What’s more, the examples can work as an explanation for the viewers who are not able to watch the whole process, which makes it important to notetakers too. Last but not least, the logic between the examples and arguments is important. Although sometimes the logic between the examples and arguments can be easily got by the viewers, the understanding between viewers and debaters may still defer. By taking several sentences of the debaters about the logic, the perplex of the viewers will be eliminated and make the debate more understandable. I think these three aspects are the points that the notetakers need to pay attention to.

Strict or Loose Construction?

Marcus argues during class with both Charles and Mrs. Anderson about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Though both sides in the book are represented by extreme views for the sensationalism of attempting to tell a good story, the actual debate is a valid case of differing opinions. The question of when to suspend the Bill of Rights remains contentious, however the government has made rulings in the past relating to the matter. Marcus states that the Bill of Rights is absolute, and should never be suspended. While this is a valid opinion, it does not reflect the views of the nation in “Little Brother”, nor does it reflect the views of our nation. The Supreme court has ruled that shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, or hate speech, for example, are not protected under the first amendment, freedom of speech and expression. Though I would say that these examples are not necessarily suspending the Bill, the federal governments’ Patriot Act represents a suspension of the Bill in certain cases. The government is given wide latitude to seek out and prosecute terrorism based on a much lesser standard of truth than a court of law. Additionally, an important part of the debate is the right to privacy versus surveillance. Whether the right to privacy exists in the Bill of Rights is not debatable, there is no stated rule that creates it. The only arguments come from the 14th amendment, where Roe v. Wade was ruled based on the implied right to privacy. As part of the debate, Mrs. Anderson brings up how the constitution was made to change and adapt to the times, and that the founding fathers did not mean for it to remain immutable for years. Marcus argues the opposite, what is known as strict constructionism. Though I do not agree with how Mrs. Anderson wants to change the constitution, I would agree that it should not be interpreted literally, and that it should evolve with society. The very idea that the constitution has a built in amendments process shows that the founding fathers did not believe that they were the final say on the way this nation should be run.

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.

 

 

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.

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