The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: digital age

Whether we can or we should: an exploration of privacy in the digital age

“What’s at stake is not whether someone can listen in but whether one should.”

This quote from It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd perfectly illustrates the complex role of privacy in an increasingly digital age. As opposed to the past where locked doors and hushed conversations limited parents’ intrusions into their children’s privacy, the rise of public chat rooms, profiles, and pages on social media platforms have allowed increased access to the social media profiles of students. One common argument that parents often make for the stalking of their kids’ social media is the fact that it’s accessible to the public, and therefore they can look at it. But that argument fails to account for whether or not they should look at it. I have the ability to run through commons and make a scene when getting my breakfast; that doesn’t mean I should do it, because doing so causes a public disturbance that violates social etiquette. It’s this sense of social etiquette that drives our sense of morality, and what should prevent parents from excessively looking at their children’s’ online profiles without cause. This argument should be extended into the information age and evolve into a sort of digital etiquette. Even if online accessibility has increased, boundaries remain very real and should be respected no matter the medium of information exchange. It’s well known that government agencies such as the NSA possess the tools to decipher our encryptions and monitor our messages; but doing so knowingly violates citizens’ rights to privacy without just cause and can turn into a slippery slope where all communication is monitored by an overarching surveillance state. However dystopian that may sounds, its effects are being observed in realtime where increased violation of boundaries often leads to more secrecy and unexpected consequences.

Just because an action can be applied isn’t reason enough for its application. Those who use this justification often have ulterior goals, and it’s necessary that parents, authorities, and everyone in between recognize that boundaries exist and respect them. The “can” vs “should” argument will no doubt persist, but I hope this blog post was able to clarify the debate around this topic with respect to privacy. 

Strong Encryption For The People. Please and Thank You.

The two most compelling reasons I found why strong encryption should be available to the public is the large amount of interceptable information spread daily via email and that individuals have enjoyed complete privacy for most of history.

The hundreds of millions of emails sent back in forth within the masses of the online public holds records of financial transactions, the passwords to private online accounts, and the registration for a variety of social sources that could be used against the individual if decrypted. Strong encryption should be allowed for the everyday regular person to send emails because the number of incriminating or illegal activity is relatively small compared to the large number of legal and regular every day communications that take place. The reasoning that encryption should not be allowed to the masses due to the fact criminals will use it is weak because without encryption criminals will still find a way to hide their communications.

Never before has the government had the ability to access the personal information of their citizens. In a society with no encryption, the government would have full access to all digital conversations and habits of their users, thus ushering in a system of mass surveillance similar to that shown in George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not saying that we are going to be like Winston and friends and be forced into submission by the Party, but by having a government that is capable of being all knowing of their citizens is scary. The freedom to speech is also awarded in our Bill of Rights as Americans and with the government being able to look into the way we talk and communicate online, that may lead people to not want to take full advantage of the internet.

Electronic Everything, Except…

It’s almost comical to read Singh’s prediction, considering the digital world we live in today. He predicts that “electronic mail will soon become more popular than conventional mail,” and that governments will use the internet to help run their countries. These statements have long been true. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sent someone a letter that wasn’t my mom forcing me to send thank-you cards after my 13th birthday party.

Almost every action we perform using the internet nowadays uses a code. Every time we log-in to a site, our credentials are protected through encryption. In many cases, this is lower-stakes, like on social media platforms, gaming websites, etc. However, this encryption can also be extremely crucial: private email, online banking, and health records are all contained online. For actions such as these, it is imperative that our information is well protected. Someone who had access to all the information we store on the internet could easily ruin our lives.

One of Singh’s predictions, however, has not yet come true. In the US, at least, online voting has not become a reality. Some states do allow some sorts of online voting, whether it’s, or electronic fax or portal, but the majority of voting is done in person at a booth or through absentee ballots. The overarching reason for this is the government’s distrust in their own ability to maintain an uninterrupted and honest election. While smaller countries may find it easier to implement electronic voting, the U.S. faces several problems. First, many citizens in the United States are extremely well educated and well versed in computer encryption systems and hacking. The odds of all the top hackers working for the US government is extremely low. Secondly, there is always international interest in our domestic elections. There have been countless stories in the news (Russia, Ukraine) about other countries trying to interfere with our elections. Online voting would make this much easier, as the internet is very much a worldwide network. Containing voting to an old-school system limits the amount of electronic interference that another citizen or country could have.

Reading the news, shopping, sending messages, and so many more simple tasks have been taken over by the internet – it’ll be interesting to see if the internet continues to develop and eventually takes over voting as well.

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