Cryptography vs. Big Brother: How Math Became a Weapon Against Tyranny

Cryptography vs. Big Brother: How Math Became a Weapon Against Tyranny

#Cryptography #Big #Brother #Math #Weapon #Tyranny

The title of the book is The Rise of The Computer State. What I’m saying is that large bureaucracies with the power that the computer gives them become more powerful and that they are escaping the checks and balances of representative democracy.

In 1983, the New York Times reporter David Burnham warned that the integration of computers into every aspect of daily life could lead to a level of automated surveillance, unknown in any previous age. For society to change course, Burnham argued,

Citizens would need to rise up through the democratic process and demand new legal protections to safeguard their privacy. There are ways to deal with it. We have done it. And all I hope is that we’re on our toes enough and alert enough to see them and go after them.

This is just political jaw boning. A few years later, a physicist named Tim May argued that putting faith in representative democracy was naive. He believed that only innovation could save us from the Orwellian state. The interesting things that had happened had been technological changes, the telephone, the copy machine, the VCR, computers.

May became a co-founder of the cypherpunk movement, which came together around the idea that a recent breakthrough in the field of cryptography was the key innovation for combating tyranny, comparable to how the crossbow enabled individuals to go up against medieval armies.

It’s an epiphany. It’s like standing on top of the mountain and seeing that this is out there. Coming up, Reason takes a look at how one community came to see cryptography as a powerful weapon for defeating Big Brother. Here’s part two in a four-part series on how the cypherpunk movement

Anticipated the promise and the peril that lay ahead when the internet upended the world. In the late 1970s, there was an astonishing  breakthrough in the field of cryptography. I saw this as the critical fork in the road  for the future of human freedom. I really did.

In the summer of ’77, Mark Miller was a 20 year  old student at Yale working for a counter-cultural tech visionary named Ted Nelson. Like many future cypherpunks, he would learn of this groundbreaking discovery when the August issue of Scientific American arrived at his door.

And I’m reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical  Games column and I just get incredibly excited, just incredibly excited. I call  up Ted in the middle of the night and I tell Ted, we can  prevent the Ministry of Truth. As Gardener told his readers, a discovery had  been made that would revolutionize the entire

Field of secret communication. It was the work of  teams of mathematicians and computer scientists  at MIT and Stanford, including a young  researcher named Whitfield Diffie. If you look at 1791 at the  moment of the Bill of Rights, impenetrably private conversations dominated.

What the framers didn’t foresee is that private  communication would happen via computer, sending messages across the world  that could easily be intercepted. Public key cryptography gives you  a mechanism whereby you can recover this ability to have an impenetrably  private conversation between two people.

Look at this. A cipher. Well, let’s go back to  the office and get started on it. Sending a secret message used to involve  translating words through a secret code that spies and government  agents could potentially crack. Phil, I think I’ve got it. Good. Z is D. B is E.

Anyone sending and receiving messages also had  to have a copy of the secret key or translation device, just like the decipher rings collected by  American schoolchildren, starting in the 1930s. Here’s how you can get one for your very own.  First, get a jar of chocolate flavored Ovaltine.

Public key cryptography made  decoding devices unnecessary, and figuring out the pattern  effectively impossible. Superman. The big breakthrough was an easy to solve  mathematical formula that you could funnel words into just as easily as dropping them through a  trap door. But if you flip the problem around

And tried to pull the message out the other side, in  that direction the formula was almost impossible to solve, such that even a super computer trying  random numbers would need 40 quadrillion years to service the answer. But the person who set up the  mathematical formula, or trap door, held the answer  

To the problem or secret code, making it possible  for that person to retrieve the original message. It could also be compared to the most  ubiquitous trapdoor system for sending messages. Consider a mailbox. Anyone can  throw a letter in a mailbox, but only the mailman who  has a key can take it out.

Anyone in the world could set  up one of these equations, serving as the mailman of his or her very own  impenetrable virtual letterbox. And because that individual could prove ownership of the  mailbox by opening it with the only known key,

Public key cryptography also made it possible  to set up a provable identity on the internet, completely disconnected from any  real world personal information. Knowing economics the way you do and looking  at what’s happening with the internet, what can you see happening  way out there in the future?

The most striking non-obvious thing is that current technologies are in the process of giving us a level of privacy we have never had before. Essentially there are now well known ways available in free  software of encrypting messages

So that only the intended recipient can read them, so that if  the FBI intercepts them, it’s gibberish to them. One way of reading, the second amendment  is that it was a way of making sure that if the government tried to suppress  the people, the people would win.

And the militia wouldn’t be very good, but it  would outnumber of professionals a hundred to one. In the modern world, the weapons that the army has differ by a lot more than they did in the 18th century. But I also think that if  you look at what politics are like nowadays,

The real wars between the government and the  population are information wars, not physical wars. Encryption means that they can’t arrest you.  They can’t blackmail your key people. It can’t do any of the things governments might do to make  sure that public information is what they wanted.

Meanwhile, the US intelligence community  was doing everything in its power to keep this new tool out  of the hands of the public. Well, somebody once said to me, “If you think New Directions had an impact on the outside world, you should have seen the impact that it had it on NSA.”

In part three in this series, we’ll look at the  US government’s effort to halt the widespread use of public key cryptography by threatening criminal prosecution, and the legal and public relations battle, waged by one founding member of  the cypherpunks, for freedom of speech in software.

Like it? Share with your friends!


What's Your Reaction?

hate hate
confused confused
fail fail
fun fun
geeky geeky
love love
lol lol
omg omg
win win


Choose A Format
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
Youtube and Vimeo Embeds
Soundcloud or Mixcloud Embeds
Photo or GIF
GIF format