I was incredibly fortunate to have taken an AP English class during my senior year of high school. In this class, we analyzed and discussed a variety of books ranging from Robert Reich’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future to George Orwell’s 1984. But more than the rich curriculum of literature we studied I’m thankful for the writing we did in the later part of the course.
The teacher who taught the course was taking part in an experimental program, in collaboration with English teachers from other high schools throughout the country, to give high school seniors exposure to digital writing and publishing. In order to complete their writing assignments, students would publish prompted writing to http://www.youthvoices.net/ and use the platform to give feedback to other students on their writing. Shortly after graduating I got an email from the service alerting me that they were changing domains and the version I used for class was going to be archived. In the spirit of preserving my published writing from the service, below is one of the prompted articles I wrote.
The original post can be found on Archive.org.
Since before the World Wars we as a people have made use of encryption and other forms of cryptography to protect themselves and their ideas. For most of this time cryptography had been considered a good thing which should be used and implemented by more people than heads of state and enterprise. However, in this postmodern age of terrorism cryptography has become the new boogieman feared by intelligence agencies and law enforcement alike; and beyond government officials cryptography has become the latest topic of fear pandered by mainstream media outlets, spreading the message that this technique of security is one of harm.
From the perspective of law enforcement I can see reason for fear. The FBI is concerned with the security of the citizens of the nation, but above the security of the citizens the FBI is more concerned with the security of the nation as a whole. Because of this priority the FBI believes that certain sacrifices must be made by the few for the protection of the many. This belief creates a disturbing issue where the cryptographic techniques used to protect individuals is vilified, due to its ability to protect everyone. This fear can be seen in, California Democratic Senator and co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein saying, “I think that Silicon Valley has to take a look at their products, If you create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way, … that is a big problem.” As well saying, “They have apps to communicate on, which cannot be pierced even with a court order.” We see here that law enforcement and intelligence agencies view cryptography as an obstruction of justice, preventing investigation of terrorists.
Like most fear pandering however, this fear of cryptography is both unnecessary and unhealthy for the people who and being pandered toward. The pattern of the fear of encryption is not a new one, beginning with the intelligence leaks of Edward Snowden as is frequently believed. Infact the pattern of pandering a fear of cryptography can be dated back to 1997 before every major terrorist attack of the past 20 years. This can be seen in a July 1997 quote from Former FBI Director Louis Freeh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The looming spectre of the widespread use of robust, virtually uncrackable encryption is one of the most difficult problems confronting law enforcement as the next century approaches. At stake are some of our most valuable and reliable investigative techniques, and the public safety of our citizens. We believe that unless a balanced approach to encryption is adopted that includes a viable key management infrastructure, the ability of law enforcement to investigate and sometimes prevent the most serious crimes and terrorism will be severely impaired. Our national security will also be jeopardized.“ This pattern illustrates one very important thing encryption isn’t the issue. Our intelligence agencies should not be concerning themselves with the encryption abilities of terrorists, rather they should be concerned with the encryption ability of themselves and the citizens they should be protecting. Only by strengthening ourselves can we only begin to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks.
Annotate the Intercept article I followed while writing this on Hypothes.is.