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July 15, 2014

Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Posted by Tom Leinster

The Notices of the AMS has just published the second in its series “Mathematicians discuss the Snowden revelations”. (The first was here.) The introduction to the second article cites this blog for “a discussion of these issues”, but I realized that the relevant posts might be hard for visitors to find, scattered as they are over the last eight months.

So here, especially for Notices readers, is a roundup of all the posts and discussions we’ve had on the subject. In reverse chronological order (and updated after the original appearance of this post):

Posted at July 15, 2014 11:31 PM UTC

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Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

The AMS ought to be ashamed of itself for publishing such a deceptive, specious, and self-serving column. Richard George makes vague references to unsupported allegations that the NSA weakened crypto standards–and such purposeful vagueness is his only hope of persuasion, given that the evidence we have at hand overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the NSA engaged in misconduct.

In particular, the New York Times claimed in 2013 that some of the documents released by Edward Snowden “suggest that the N.S.A. generated one of the random number generators used in a 2006 N.I.S.T. standard — called the Dual EC DRBG standard — which contains a back door for the N.S.A,” a conclusion which has been largely acknowledged as overwhelmingly plausible, given the evidence at hand.

Moreover, the NSA’s 2013 budget request, also published in part by the New York Times, describes an NSA program with a stated aim to “insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks, and endpoint communications devices used by targets.” I am no cryptographic expert, but this seems unambiguously to declare that the NSA is in fact in the business of weakening cryptographic systems and protocols.

After his various falsehoods, George ends his column with ad hominem attacks against those who have released this information to the public, beginning with his strange declaration that he and his colleagues are “disappointed” and have “a feeling of betrayal” from Snowden & al. (Why should we care how he and his fellow NSA employees feel when the issue at hand is whether they are participating in injustice?), and ending with the oft-repeated claim that such defectors have done “immense” damage–a claim that Snowden’s allies are fond of making yet in support of which they find themselves unable to cite even a single example.

Finally, in the course of his denunciation of the leakers, George misgenders Chelsea Manning–referring to her as Bradley, a name she has since renounced–, a woman who has made the incredibly brave decision to publicly announce her gender identity while incarcerated in a men’s military prison which offers no support for gender dysphoria. Even those who, like George, believe Manning’s contribution to her country to be traitorous rather than heroic ought to have the basic decency to respect her gender identity and the difficulties she has suffered and continues to suffer as a trans woman.

Posted by: bgg on July 16, 2014 11:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Moreover, the NSA’s 2013 budget request, also published in part by the New York Times, describes an NSA program with a stated aim to “insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks, and endpoint communications devices used by targets.”

Indeed. That’s exactly what I thought of when I read Richard George’s sentence:

I have never heard of any proven weakness in a cryptographic algorithm that’s linked to NSA; just innuendo.

He may not have heard of it, but we now have very strong evidence that this has happened.

Another part of George’s article also jumped out at me:

I’ve heard some knowledgeable people claim that this metadata can be used to create detailed profiles of people. Of course, that’s not true.

There are unambiguous statements from top security officials attesting to the power of metadata. The NSA’s former General Counsel, Stewart Baker, said:

Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.

Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and the CIA, said:

We kill people based on metadata.

(He may have been referring to the NSA supplying target locations to the CIA for its drone strike programme. “We track ‘em, you whack ‘em”, as the slogan goes.)

To be fair, George does say “this metadata”, not just “metadata”. He may have been referring to just phone metadata (the subject of the preceding text), not all the other types of data that we now know is collected by the NSA.

bgg, will you be writing a letter to the Notices? That would be much more widely read than a comment on this blog.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 1:14 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

I considered preparing an expanded version of the above comment for a letter to the Notices, but since I am only entering my first year of graduate school this fall, I determined that the task was best left to someone more senior than I.

Posted by: bgg on July 17, 2014 1:57 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

That’s very understandable.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 2:03 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Obviously the field of actual mathematics is amenable to a lot more logical rigour than general discussion (in this instance regarding ethics), but it would be interesting to look at if other writings AMS publishes have similar amounts of non-sequiturs and “assertions of facts not in evidence”.

Posted by: davetweed on July 17, 2014 12:17 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

A common feature of these pro-NSA/GCHQ articles is that they never address any of the actual facts that we’ve learned from the Snowden revelations. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to have a meaningful debate.

Of course, another common feature of these articles is that the people who write them are or were employed by the agencies, which maybe means that they’re legally constrained from referring to any of the vast amount of evidence we now have at our disposal. It says something that hardly anyone not employed by the NSA/GCHQ has stepped up.

If you feel like identifying some specific non-sequiturs and unsupported factual assertions, do feel free…

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 1:23 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

It says something that hardly anyone not employed by the NSA/GCHQ has stepped up.

As I’ve said before, I think what it says is that the people who get excited about this sort of thing are the ones willing to invest time and energy in writing letters and columns. The rest of us are too busy with the rest of our lives.

Posted by: Mike Shulman on July 17, 2014 4:19 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

At least among the computer scientists I know, it’s simply taken for granted that the NSA engages in bad behavior. Even those who don’t say much tend to take the view that getting worked up about their misconduct is like getting excited by the sky being blue. E.g., it’s basically a running joke for crypto researchers to write about systems which are secure against “nation-state adversaries”.

Posted by: Neel Krishnaswami on July 17, 2014 10:49 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Mike, I hope you didn’t mean that to sound as belittling as it does. But there’s something about your point that’s certainly true: if you approve of the status quo and have the political establishment on your side, then sure, you’ll be more inclined to do nothing.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 12:19 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

I think the thing that struck me was just the way that it was a lot of “here’s some text about something that sounds like it ought to be related, but when you think about it isn’t relevant”, and I was just wondering if this was below the standard that’s found in writings on other topics. I thought that a lot of the issues with the text were very obvious (bgg cites a couple above), but to cite just two examples:

  1. Non-sequitur: The text goes from talking about arguing the NSA’s large-scale collection of metadata is cannot be used for very much profiling to statements about how much people who have decided to work at the NSA have their privacy dramatically reduced in order for the NSA to gain confidence about their reliability. I don’t see why the fact that an entity (in this case it’s employees) deciding to submit itself to some severe constraint in an area X has any relevance to the legitimacy of it imposing weaker constraints in area X upon other people. (The standard example is if I’m on a low-calorie diet, even if for a good reason for me, that doesn’t have any relationship to whether I should be able to determine things about what you eat.)

  2. Unsupported assertion: There’s an flat assertion that no-one cares about commerical entities building up the sort of data profile that people are caring about the governmental intelligence agencies building up. This isn’t true: you can find lots of examples of people who are concerned about some aspect of commercial entities data profiling. (Eg, the existence of privacy badger and the failed Do Not Track header along with the people who created them and the articles they’ve written are supporting evidence.)It’s arguable (ideally citing the evidence the arguer is considering!) that there’s less concern than about governmental intelligence agencies, but that’s a different to saying that no-one cares.

Part of the reason that I care about this is that I do think that there are reasonable well-supported uses for big data analysis, profiling, etc, but there are also justifiable concerns people have. If the parts of the argument that the intelligence folks make which, as far as I can see, aren’t being self-censored due to stuff they can’t mention/acknowledge are so badly formed, I worry that we won’t progress to vitally needed discussions of what kind of proportionality applies in this area, when it is and is not reasonable for entities to acquire information for analysis, etc.

Posted by: davetweed on July 17, 2014 9:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Part of me wishes that some mathematician would write a good article in support of NSA/GCHQ mass surveillance. The ones we’ve seen so far, in both the AMS and LMS publications, are so sloppily argued and fact-free that they can’t possibly represent the most coherent thoughts of what is, after all, a large community of intelligent people.

I agree with both your points 1 and 2. To add to point 1, someone in an earlier thread (I forget who or where) made the interesting suggestion that when new NSA employees are compelled to surrender privacy to the organization, this serves as useful indoctrination: they will then tend to be more willing to make light of other people’s privacy.

Point 2: yes, that’s a glaring non-sequitur. It’s possible to be concerned about loss of privacy to both governments and commercial organizations! Personally, I think government surveillance is much more pernicious, as (i) they collect your interactions with all commercial organizations (and non-commercial ones too), and (ii) they can back it up with legal, police and military force.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 12:39 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Personally, I think government surveillance is much more pernicious, as (i) they collect your interactions with all commercial organizations (and non-commercial ones too), and (ii) they can back it up with legal, police and military force.

(iii) With commercial organizations, however tiny and well-hidden the fine print is, you’ve generally opted into their data collection at least nominally by using their services, and a committed individual may be able to find the fine print that documents that this is happening.

Posted by: Mark Meckes on July 17, 2014 2:14 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

At this point I probably ought to just put it out there that I’m someone who has worked on machine learning and data-mining in the past and may do again. (However, unlike Hugh Dennis I don’t have a cool story of someone offering me a position as a spook as an undergrad :-( )

I tend to think that goverments and commercial entities are equally potentially serious (at least when the commercial entities are data collectors on a huge scale). I was primarily just pointing out an asserted fact that had no supporting evidence and I think even the couple of links I provided demonstrated is a false statement.

Sticking to governmental agencies relevant here, one difference from commercial entities is that they are supposed to be more constrained by legal process. My biggest issue is the large area where there are fully consciously created legal procedures and safeguards for obtaining data via agencies demanding the data where a technological means has been found which means that the safeguards no longer constrain things. For example, obtaining a US individuals internet behaviour with a particular provider requires a warrant – that has been signed by a judge who has reviewed coherent legal evidence for suspicion, which hence means they’re only used where there is significant suspicion – whereas when obtained by direct snooping on cross-data-centre cables there is no such restraint. I’m of the opinion that at the very least it ought to be a situation where legal restraints for all these things depend only upon the result acheived, not how. (Eg, a government agency must have X to acquire an individuals internet data from a provider, regardless of whether it’s obtained by asking the company directly, buying the data from a 3rd party who has obtained it, obtaining it by snooping on cross data-centre cables, finding a reliable psychic who can tell them, etc…)

Posted by: davetweed on July 17, 2014 5:27 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Just in case there’s any misunderstanding, Dave, I’m fully with you on point 2 (and I appreciate the links: I hadn’t heard of Privacy Badger). As you say, lots of people have written and campaigned about the dangers of Google, Facebook etc. having so much of our private data.

A while back, we discussed big data and mass surveillance on this blog, following a great essay on it by Nils Carqueville and Daniel Murfet.

I have a different interest in big data, too. In my work on quantifying biological diversity, I’m hearing increasingly often about the approach where you take a representative sample of the ecosystem you’re interested in, stick it all in a blender, sequence the DNA of the gloop you’ve just made, and deduce from the resulting huge data-file what organisms the ecosystem contains. This is radically different from the traditional approach of having expert botanists, entomologists, etc. picking laboriously through the sample, and it’s only feasible because of the exponential drop in the cost of DNA sequencing.

Since conserving the planet’s biological diversity probably has to start with cataloguing what’s actually out there, I think this is a very important application of data science. So yes: I also agree that there are very positive uses for data-mining etc., and the fact that it’s also used for whole-population surveillance doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t work on data science.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 5:44 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Don’t worry, there’s no risk of misunderstanding. I think you’ve got a very well explained and reasonble point of view. I mentioned that part of my work more because it might well not be known by readers and I didn’t want to risk “lying by omission” on a fact that I could be said to be an “interest that may inform my views”.

Posted by: davetweed on July 17, 2014 6:01 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Here’s another part of Richard George’s article that really bothered me:

The folks I knew in SIGINT, and I knew them very well, would not dream of violating U.S. citizens’ rights.

First, notice that word “U.S.”? Being part of the 95% of the world that isn’t the U.S., I’m not enormously comforted.

Second, it’s what we always hear: “I’ve worked in the secret services, and my colleagues are a decent bunch — you can trust them”. It doesn’t withstand factual examination. In similar articles for the LMS newsletter, GCHQ insiders Richard Pinch and Malcolm MacCallum invoked the head of GCHQ’s claim that if his staff were asked to “snoop” on the general public, they’d quit. In that case, I contrasted that claim with what we now know about GCHQ’s Optic Nerve programme, which surreptitiously collected images from ordinary people’s webcams.

That’s just one example. Virtually every revelation based on the Snowden documents describes some privacy-violating NSA or GCHQ programme. Even if you want to stick to US citizens only, there’s still masses of documentary evidence of privacy violations by the NSA; here’s a good recent example.

Against all the documentary evidence, warmth of feeling for one’s friends and fellow workers isn’t too persuasive. Maybe George’s colleagues weren’t involved in this kind of thing. Maybe they were, but didn’t consider that their work violated U.S. citizens’ rights, for one reason or another: heartfelt opinion, convenient rationalization, disinclination to question one’s superiors, …. Who knows? Whatever it is, it doesn’t change the documented facts.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 1:57 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

In similar articles for the LMS newsletter, GCHQ insiders Richard Pinch and Malcolm MacCallum invoked the head of GCHQ’s claim that if his staff were asked to “snoop” on the general public, they’d quit. In that case, I contrasted that claim with what we now know about GCHQ’s Optic Nerve programme, which surreptitiously collected images from ordinary people’s webcams.

That claim also doesn’t hold up well against the results of studies like the infamous Milgram experiment.

Posted by: Mark Meckes on July 17, 2014 2:19 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Excellent point. For those of us unhappy with what the intelligence agencies are doing, there’s a temptation to think of them a bunch of cat-stroking Bond villains. When those who have worked there (some of whom are my friends) say that it’s a fun atmosphere full of ordinary people who just love doing math and don’t have an evil intention in the world, I don’t have a hard time believing it. But as the Milgram experiments and countless historical episodes make clear, you don’t have to be a hollow-eyed psychopath to inflict enormous harm.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 2:58 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Literary references for this are Kafka’s Der Process and Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report.

Jacob Appelbaum documents how the NSA records `details about visits to a popular internet journal for Linux operating system users called “the Linux Journal - the Original Magazine of the Linux Community”, and calls it an “extremist forum”. ‘

I hope there is more to say about this, but with such crude indicators mistakes will be made.

Posted by: Bas Spitters on July 17, 2014 9:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

This is evidence of an incompetent editor. A serious editor would have demanded that such a vapid statement be supported by some kind of evidence, particularly in a nominally apolitical forum such as the NAMS. Under the editorship of Steven Krantz the NAMS has published a number of low quality and essentially political pieces. He should be criticized for this piece (and others) because it’s his fault that it was published.

Posted by: Bobito on July 18, 2014 3:36 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

I agree that Richard George’s piece is poor, but I can understand why it got published. As it says in the intro to the first entry in this series, the series editors (Michael Harris and Allyn Jackson) “made many efforts to seek out authors whom we thought might write in defense of the NSA. However, this proved difficult”. So I can see why they and the overall Notices editor would have accepted an article with many deficiencies.

It could be argued that they should have prompted George to back up some of his statements with evidence, but on the whole I think I’d prefer the Notices to give mathematicians the chance to voice their opinions without editing them. (I don’t know whether they do edit them.) Certainly I’d have been unhappy if the editors of the LMS newsletter had wanted to edit the articles that I wrote.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 19, 2014 3:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Not all opinions are valid. Those that are demonstrably in contradiction with the available evidence do not merit publication. If it is the case that the NAMS sought those who would defend the NSA and could find no one who could do so with any substantial argument, perhaps the conclusion for the editors should be that no defense is available. Treating equally a strongly supported argument and a vapid opinion is dishonest and, in the context of the notices of a professional society, unprofessional.

Posted by: Bobito on July 24, 2014 11:30 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

The AMS articles are getting a bit of attention on Twitter now. Journalist Glenn Greenwald (who’s reported a lot of the Snowden stories):

Glenn Greenwald tweet on AMS stories

CERN physicist Subodh Patil:

Subodh Patil tweet on AMS stories

Posted by: Tom Leinster on July 17, 2014 2:14 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

More suspicious elliptic curves, according to Rivest

For those who may not have seen it, Peter Woit has a stack of links to NIST material dealing with analysis of the whole Dual EC DRBG debacle which more than blows what Richard George says out of the water.

More interesting, perhaps, and one for mathematicians to look at in detail is this statement:

One way this goes beyond the now-withdrawn NIST standard is that the committee also looked at other NIST current standards now in wide use, which in at least one other case depend upon a specific choice of elliptic curves made by the NSA, with no explanation provided of how the choice was made. In particular, Rivest recommends changing the ECDSA standard in FIPS186 because of this problem.

You can find the current version of NIST’s FIPS186 here and the ECDSA standard in ANSI X9.62:2005 here, which, scandalously, costs 100 dollars [hmm, the dollar sign killed the rest of the comment]. Thankfully, the mathematical details seem to all be contained in section 6 and appendix D of the NIST document. That appendix, in particular, contains lots of specific elliptic curves and ‘magic numbers’.

It would be great if someone could analyse these and if there are any suspicious features, write it up and plonk it on the arXiv or similar. Or better, in the comments section here :-)

Posted by: David Roberts on July 23, 2014 1:57 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Dave Tweed wrote:

The text goes … to statements about how much people who have decided to work at the NSA have their privacy dramatically reduced in order for the NSA to gain confidence about their reliability. I dont see why the fact that an entity (in this case its employees) deciding to submit itself to some severe constraint in an area X has any relevance to the legitimacy of it imposing weaker constraints in area X upon other people. (The standard example is if Im on a low-calorie diet, even if for a good reason for me, that doesnt have any relationship to whether I should be able to determine things about what you eat.)

An important question here is, how much choice employees had when giving up big parts of their privacy (please see also this comment), last but not least this is also a question about working conditions. Like pop stars usually also have to give up big parts of their privacy, however they have eventually more means to compensate for that loss (?). So even if due to “professionality” there should be a distinction between the different “rights for privacy”, there may still be psychological factors play a role.

I do think that the aspects of working conditions, moral and judicial inner conflicts of employees in secret services and similar institutions (that could include some companies) should have more a chance to be voiced.

I had mentioned the following already in a comment on the german blog Netzpolitik, and others had said similar, but may be it should be repeated more often - it could make sense to think about a kind of court together with security options for whistleblowers, similar to the International Criminal Court. Not all whistleblowing is good, the overall damage might be vastly bigger than the overall benefits, this seems to be a case by case decision. The current institutions seem not prepared for such cases. In particular it seems that even mass surveillance is not seen as Crimes against humanity, moreover I am not sure how well the International Criminal Courts is able to protect people who point out such crimes (i.e. whistleblowers of crimes against humanity).

Posted by: nad on July 23, 2014 8:42 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

According to the BBC, GCHQ is now in some kind of partnership to run master’s degrees in “cyber security” at several UK universities: Edinburgh Napier (\neq Edinburgh), Lancaster, Oxford, and Royal Holloway (London). The story says very little about what these courses will consist of or how GCHQ is involved, and doesn’t contain any links to further information about the degrees.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on August 3, 2014 9:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

I complained about the lack of links (which seems to be a habitual problem for old-media outlets doing new-media journalism). But I’ve now found the GCHQ press release of which the BBC article is a subset.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on August 5, 2014 2:48 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Not sure it’s the maths+stats department at Lancaster who are involved in that one …

Posted by: Yemon Choi on August 26, 2014 2:42 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Hi Yemon. I’d expect any qualification called “cyber security” to be hosted by a computer science department (although that doesn’t stop people in maths departments from being involved as consultants, lecturers, etc).

Regardless of location, I’d also expect a “cyber security” to include a large amount of applied mathematics, both of the cryptographic, number-theoretic type and the systems-analysis, probabilistic type.

(One of the reasons why I get irritated by the customary overly-narrow interpretation of the term “applied mathematics” is that it ignores the enormous amount of applied maths that’s done in computer science departments.)

Do you know anything about the implementation of this degree at Lancaster?

Posted by: Tom Leinster on August 26, 2014 3:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

As far as I can see, these degrees can just be regular computing science taught masters that contain a certain number of security-related courses and a security-related dissertation, and that are taught at an institution that contains several researchers with an interest in security. The term “security” is interpreted very broadly (at least by EPSRC), and covers things like human factors, forensics, business economics, hardware design and networking, so it doesn’t have to include any maths.

This seems to be part of a broader trend in offering effectively the same course with multiple titles, to attract a wider audience and to provide attractive looking CVs. For example, you can now do a masters degree in “data sciences” that doesn’t even have an option to take any statistics courses. It’s similar to the way some universities offer “pure” and “applied” maths degrees which are the same as their regular maths degrees, except for a few additional restrictions on course choices.

Posted by: Ciaran McCreesh on August 26, 2014 8:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

some universities offer “pure” and “applied” maths degrees which are the same as their regular maths degrees, except for a few additional restrictions on course choices.

Right — this is really quite strange. We at Edinburgh have an “applied maths” degree that is exactly the same as the maths degree except with a more restricted set of course choices. The only possible reason to take it is that you think it will look better on your CV.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on August 27, 2014 11:03 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Hi Tom, I haven’t heard anything mentioned, which is why I don’t think my department is directly involved. No one in the department seems an obvious fit for that kind of course, and since Lancaster seems to go for the more applied side of computer science my guess is that this is CompSci’s initiative to package some existing modules in an “appealing” way, with more of a focus on implementation than theory.

As an aside: given the number theory that I teach our students, I find it hard to believe that my course will be part of this scheme, even if we do use RSA as an excuse to make the undergraduates get to grips with the Euler phi function…

Posted by: Yemon Choi on August 27, 2014 12:23 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

The September issue of the Notices contains an article by famous NSA whistleblower William Binney. Binney was a senior cryptanalyst at the NSA up until October 2001, when he quit because of what he saw as the NSA’s unconstitutional and unethical surveillance of American citizens.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on August 14, 2014 5:46 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Math and Mass Surveillance: A Roundup

Eric Hobsbawm, is a famous historian, and his book ‘The age of extremes’ is his personal vision of the (short) 20C. In the final chapter ‘towards the new millenium’ he wrote:

“Nevertheless, some features of the global political landscape stood out. The first, as already noted, was the weakening of the nation-state…[by] losing its monolpoly on effective power and historic privileges within its own borders…

…[however] these developments did not make the state either redundant or ineffective. Indeed, in some respects its capacity to monitor and control the affairs of its citizens was reinforced by technology, since virtually all their financial and administrative transactions (other than small cash payments) were now likely to be recorded by computer, and all their communications (except for most face-to-face conversations in the open air) could now be intercepted and recorded”.

Hobsbawm, was writing in 1994: so quite prescient really.

Posted by: Mozibur Ullah on August 25, 2014 1:04 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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