The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: journalism

Freedom of the Press Still Requires Bravery – Taking on the NSA

“How to save the Net: Break up the NSA.” This is a bold statement for a bold article. Bruce Schneier, renowned cryptographer and writer, bravely authored this article for Wired as a part of the “Save the Net” series, “featuring bold solutions to the biggest problems facing the Internet today.” Schneier proposes that the NSA should be separated into its three main components: government surveillance, citizen surveillance, and defense of U.S. infrastructure, and these three sectors placed into different departments. Especially the more we learn about the NSA’s reaching power and what they can do, they seem like such an untouchable superpower. I really admire Schneier’s audacity to suggest such a radical solution, and I think his ideas make sense. Considering the Snowden leaks, the NSA’s international mission should be protected at a military level in the Department of Defense, domestic surveillance goes hand in hand with the mission of the Justice Department, and, Schneier argues, the defense of American infrastructure should be by a new and open organization. I think what we find so intimidating about the NSA is that if they have the power to hack into a foreign government, what would stop them from looking into my personal phone or computer? But we don’t seem to have a problem with the military cybersecurity having a similar power. It would be interesting to continue to explore the possible consequences of having a governmental agency that people trust devoted to protecting American citizens online, while the Departments of Defense and Justice combine forces with current NSA programs to secretly do what they need to do to protect us. And ironically, the NSA will most likely see and read this article that was published online, but that’s what the freedom of press is all about!

Encryption Use for Journalists

Because my paper is directed at students who wish to pursue a career in journalism, many of my sources are articles found in the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine aimed at journalists. There have been several articles written about encryption use for journalists in the past few years, especially in the wake of the Snowden leaks. The movie Citizenfour provided some additional background on the events surrounding these leaks. Additionally, I may use Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras as specific examples of journalists using cryptography. While their situation was a bit more extreme and sensitive than what the average future journalist is likely to encounter, it is still useful for students to know something of what they did to communicate with Snowden. I have discovered in the course of my research that encrypted communications, in addition to protecting anonymous sources, also serves an important purpose for journalists in that it makes those sources more comfortable communicating sensitive information. (Additionally, some experts believe that journalists should continually operate under the assumption that if someone truly wants to find out information about their anonymous sources, that they will be able to do so.) Apparently, there is not much of a focus currently in journalism programs or within the news agencies themselves on teaching encryption techniques, so until things change this is something important for students to study on their own.

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