Monday, August 11, 2014

Responsible use of mathematical tools

Forbes reports on mathematicians criticizing the NSA:
Keith Devlin of Stanford University, worked on Defense Department projects after September 11th and takes a far more critical view of the NSA after the Snowden revelations. ...

“I think mathematicians should refuse to work for the NSA until they both follow the US Constitution and demonstrate responsible use of mathematical tools,” says Devlin in an email to me. “The latter is something they clearly failed to do by engineering weaknesses into mathematical crypto systems, which mathematicians know to be a very dangerous thing to do. I think it is very regrettable that the current NSA leadership has broken the immense goodwill that most of us in the mathematical community once had toward them.” ...

When Google, for example, released an “end-to-end” encryption tool for Gmail this week, it placed a smiley face message in its code, an inside joke that was a subtle dig at the NSA, and a celebration of the fact that it will be harder for spying types to get access to messages sent this way by Gmail users.
For articles on the subject in a mathematician publication, see Apr 2000, Jan 2014, Feb 2014, Jun 2014, and Jul 2014 (pdf).

The NSA is a military intelligence agency. It is a little strange for Devlin to lecture us on "responsible use of mathematical tools". It is even stranger to criticize spying and praise Google at the same time. Google makes billions of dollars from spying on users and selling their privacy to advertisers. C-Net reports:
Google sees alleged child porn in man's email, alerts police
A Houston man is charged after police say Google tips them off to alleged child porn in his e-mail.
By contrast, the NSA is accused of recommending a pseudo-random number generator that might have it easier to catch foreign terrorists.

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