#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.