The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: secrets

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.

Good Bad Secrets

After San Francisco’s security overhaul, one of the latent consequences were all the “not-terrorists” that were caught as a result of the increased surveillance measures. Marcus specifically mentions husbands and wives caught cheating, kids caught sneaking out, and one teenager whose parents discovered he had been visiting the clinic for AIDS medication. These people certainly aren’t terrorists – in fact, they’re not even drug dealers, thieves, or criminals to any extent. They aren’t guilty people, just “people with secrets” (121).

I believe the ability to keep secrets, to some extent, is a completely necessary aspect of any society. I’m not saying that sneaking out is right or wrong, and I’m certainly not saying everyone should cheat on their spouses, but that these are things that should be discovered (or not) and dealt with by the family, not the government. The government has a duty to ensure the safety of its citizens, but only after obtaining consent from its citizens. And in this case, citizens did not give consent to having details of their private, personal lives exposed. Take, for example, a sexually active gay teen growing up in an extremely religious and conservative family. He may need to visit Planned Parenthood to obtain information and medication to stay safe; however, he may not have come out to his parents yet and may not want them knowing this information for a multitude of reasons. Though this case is nuanced, it represents a more broad category of secrets that are kept for the benefit of both the individual and the family. There will always be secrets that need to be kept and actions that need to be hidden, and it is not the government’s duty to interfere.

Looks Guilty, is Guilty

The brutal treatment of the protagonist, Marcus Yarrow, in Chapters 3 and 4, following the Bay Bridge bombing was something that suck out to me as I tried to put myself in the situation and how I would have reacted.  One less obvious theme related to cryptography which I noticed was the appearance of guilt that results from Marcus’ heavy defense of his privacy.  It is human nature to feel that someone who does not want to tell you everything would be hiding something bad from you.  Marcus’ actions in his first encounter with the Department of Homeland Security’s interrogation seemed to point to him trying to hide something.  Although Marcus only tried to resist for a short amount of time, and the treatment by the Department of Homeland Security was less than proper, he did show resistance which could have prompted some reaction by the DHS.

The concept of no cipher being better than a bad cipher was also present in this scene.  The idea of this is that a ciphered message which is broken could do more harm to the party enciphering than if the same message was discovered not enciphered.  Although there were no ciphers, the passwords and security precautions made by Marcus made him look guiltier just as an enciphered message could have done.  In this scene the passwords were not “broken” but instead were taken by force, which in the long run, has the same overall effect. Regardless of the means of discovering a secret, the fact that it was a secret makes it seem worse to the party discovering it.

Image: This is Secret by Trey Ratcliff

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