Who Cares About Encryption?

BH: … although we're going to want to update the list of articles periodically.

On this page, you will consider some of the impacts of encryption on society.

photo of Luis von Ahn
Image from Wikimedia user EneasMx

Luis von Ahn (born in 1978), one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing, is a Guatemalan entrepreneur with a PhD in computer science. If you've ever had to click a box or identify images to confirm you are not a robot, you've used technology based on the work of Ahn's digital security company reCAPTCHA. reCAPTCHA protects websites from fraud and abuse with minimal disruption to user experience. After selling reCAPTCHA to Google in 2009, he co-founded the popular language learning platform Duolingo, which as of 2020 had over 500 million learners across 39 languages.

Article: 'I Just Want to Have an Impact'

  1. Read "Encryption in the Hands of Terrorists, and Everyone Else" and "Why Not Regulate Encryption?" (Blown to Bits pages 161-165).
  2. Read "Cryptography Unsettled" (Blown to Bits pages 191- top of 193).
  3. Do the following debate activity on the issue of the availability of encryption software. You will be representing either the government, a civil liberties group, or the business community.
    • Discuss the position each of these groups will take on the issue. What will the government claim is the right thing to do regarding encryption software? What would civil liberties advocates say should be done? The business community? Each group should have a clear position statement that everyone in the class knows.
    • Split into three groups - government, civil liberty groups, and businesses. In each group, write the two most convincing reasons or pieces of evidence that support your position. Then write one reason against the position of each of the other two groups. For example, the government group would write:
      • Government's position: ______________
      • Reasons for supporting our position:
        1. ______________
        2. ______________
      • We are against the civil liberty group's position because ______________
      • We are against the business' position because ______________
      (But don't think that the three positions have to be opposed to each other. They might agree about most things with only minor disagreements.)
  4. IOC-2.B
  5. Explain two or three ways that cryptography improves Internet security.
  1. Which group's reasons were you most convinced by today (even if you don't actually agree with their position)? Why were they so convincing? What made it hard to argue against their position?
  2. The debate continues: