1998-05-05 - Re: Explaining crypto to people (was Re: A new Swiss banking novel)

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From: mgraffam@mhv.net
To: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
Message Hash: 4aa58b103a045ce986b4ef2dd1fcd6e37974ca499ab9a63f38c2a371b251975b
Message ID: <Pine.LNX.3.96.980505025206.25569A-100000@localhost>
Reply To: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505001000.22926A-100000@baker>
UTC Datetime: 1998-05-05 08:00:14 UTC
Raw Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 01:00:14 -0700 (PDT)

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From: mgraffam@mhv.net
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 01:00:14 -0700 (PDT)
To: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
Subject: Re: Explaining crypto to people (was Re: A new Swiss banking novel)
In-Reply-To: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505001000.22926A-100000@baker>
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On Tue, 5 May 1998, Xcott Craver wrote:
> 	I'm not advocating "ready-made" arguments.  Rather, I'm 
> 	suggesting that we get rid of an *analogy*.  An analogy isn't
> 	the truth.

Agreed. The analogy is not the truth, however, it is true firearms,
beepers, cars and another other technology can be used for good or evil.
To treat crypto differently than these other technologies merely because
we have an interest in it is less than desirable. 

What I advocate is to present the view that the technology in all forms
be advanced, and where appropriate disclosed. Undisclosed BS crypto
algorithms have hurt us for to long. Bad design in the telephone system
has done the same. I advocate full disclosure and advancement. When
those who are scared of these things try to leverage fear against it
by saying that undesirable can/will use it, I will not deny this, because
it is true. 

Having said that, I don't really think it is necessary to go around
saying "Crypto is like a bomb" either. Crypto _can_ be used as a defensive
or an offensive weapon, however the same technology can be used for
authentication and digital cash and loads of other neat stuff. I'll
preach about all of them, especially those that I personally have an
interest in.. authentication, digital cash and secure email. 

> 	If you want to analogize crypto to something, analogize
> 	it to something crypto is more like.  

There is a reason that militaries have long used spears and crypto.
I do not mean this statement to conjure fear, but it is true that
crypt can be used as a weapon; it is, after all classified as a
munition, and for good reason when looking for the government's POV.
Certain analogies are useful in certain instances. When useful to
make the analogy to firearms, it _can_ be an excellent one.. so can
a lock. 

Last time I checked though, padlocks aren't a hot topic for debate as
to their being banned. Crypto, in certain aspects, is.

> 	..As will the phrase, "cryptography is like a gun...."  Joe User
> 	won't see authentication as "like a gun" any more than his telephone
> 	is "like a gun."

Right. But I don't trust words to get it done. Most people will believe
what they are told. And I can't scream as loud as the machine.

> 	The phase, "now, bad guys can use this to kill you just like 
> 	a gun, but responsible law-abiding citizens can use it too"
> 	is true for ALL solid objects larger than a breadbox.

Exactly. Which is _precisely_ the reason why outlawing things on the
basis that criminals can use them is insane.

>  You
> 	do NOT say this, however, when selling someone a halogen lamp
> 	or a Tickle-me-Elmo doll, or introducing them to anything
> 	new that they should have at home.  This doesn't make you a 
> 	liar.

No, I dont offer it up because it is irrelevent.. as you say, the same
is true for a breadbox. But if asked point-blank if some technology
can be used for crime Y, I'll admit it if it is true, and then I'll
show the foolishness of this line of thought.. and I'd make that point
that if we take this line of thought to its conclusion we must get
rid of everything larger than a breadbox.

And, after all that, if we are talking about controversial technologies,
individual freedoms and the like, I may just bring up firearms because
it is a technology that is in the same boat as crypto. A munition that
is getting a whole lot of attention.

> 	It is chillingly naive to defend an argument on the grounds
> 	that when dissected logically it is a true statement.  

Are you suggesting that I should defend and argument, when looked at
logically is false?

> 	Do you approve of the government repeatedly warning people that 
> 	"crypto can be used by terrorists!"  It is, after all, a true 
> 	statement!

Yes, it is a true statement.. and so is "crypto can be used by nice old
grandma's to exchange email with the grandkids in NY." Do I approve of
the gov't saying X? Only if they also say it's compliment (which is
equally true) else they are misrepresenting what is true by being
biased. One can take many true statements and present them in a way to
make things seem to be what they are not.

> 	Dropping a flawed analogy isn't covering the truth.  Rather,
> 	keeping the analogy distorts the truth.

See, I don't think that the analogy to weaponry is all that far off.
The exact same software that could let me sign my documents or
order neat stuff over the web can use the exact same algorithms
for transmitting designs for bombs.

Lets face it. Weaponry _is_ a double-edged sword.. so is crypto.
If we say that we want to bring every criminal to justice in the
most efficient way with no regard to anything else, then we should
get rid of crypto.. its as simple as that.. thats pretty obvious.

However, it is also true that weaponry has a good side.. it can
protect us against those criminals that we don't bring to justice.

Crypto has even bigger advantages.. it is _the_ technology that
can fuel completely new ways of commerce and communication..
and it can protect us from the bad guys too.. and, statistically,
a whole helluvalot better than guns can at that.

I don't think that we should make crypto out to be different from
guns in that they are completely different, because there are a lot
of similarities .. how they have been used historically, some of the
pros and cons, etc. This is a very real concern. 

Let me ask you. If you were held hostage, which would you rather have
your captor's exchange of information encrypted with, IDEA or an
aristocrat? What would you rather have the criminals run around with,
guns or clubs? 

The answers are simple, if all we value is our safety.. but this is
what I have tried to convey.. for both of these technologies, crypto and
weaponry.. the reasons for having them around far surpass our concerns
for safety from bad guys. 

I think that weaponry and crypto are related. They both have direct
military uses, and they both have direct civilian uses. Both are
controversial. I think that the analogy between them can be a good
one, in some circumstances. 

Right now, I think that crypto is in a position similar to where firearms
were (minus the hostile environment) during times of exploration in days
past. It stands as a technology that is capable of serving us in a
variety of powerful ways during a time where its application is
vitally important. 
Michael J. Graffam (mgraffam@mhv.net)
http://www.mhv.net/~mgraffam -- Philosophy, Religion, Computers, Crypto, etc
"Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine."
			Henry David Thoreau "Civil Disobedience"

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