The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Thoughts — November 25, 2016

Early in 2016, a friend sent me a paper by Phillip Rogaway entitle, “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work“. I have read it many times this year. Here’s the abstract:

Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension. The Snowden revelations motivate a reassessment of the political and moral positioning of cryptography. They lead one to ask if our inability to effectively address mass surveillance constitutes a failure of our field. I believe that it does. I call for a community-wide effort to develop more effective means to resist mass surveillance. I plead for a reinvention of our disciplinary culture to attend not only to puzzles and math, but, also, to the societal implications of our work.

The ability to take control of our lives, again, has been on my mind this month. Loss of control is often rooted in reframed language. Rogaway shows how privacy, anonymity, and even security are now associated with terrorism. His suggestion? Reframe the work cryptography as building tools for anti-surveillance. Making “surveillance more expensive” is aligned with democracy and freedom. I think this is a great observation. Hopefully others will enjoy reading this paper as much as I did.  

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