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

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From: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
To: mgraffam@mhv.net
Message Hash: b54abf5bdcb5035aa06ed2ab6c4fecdf48d6749fdbf2de9d23a6c04bf0dab082
Message ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505001000.22926A-100000@baker>
Reply To: <Pine.LNX.3.96.980504231105.24192B-100000@localhost>
UTC Datetime: 1998-05-05 06:48:14 UTC
Raw Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 23:48:14 -0700 (PDT)

Raw message

From: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 23:48:14 -0700 (PDT)
To: mgraffam@mhv.net
Subject: Explaining crypto to people (was Re: A new Swiss banking novel)
In-Reply-To: <Pine.LNX.3.96.980504231105.24192B-100000@localhost>
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505001000.22926A-100000@baker>
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On Mon, 4 May 1998 mgraffam@mhv.net wrote:
> On Mon, 4 May 1998, Xcott Craver wrote:
> I understand this view, but I don't see the worth in whitewashing things
> for the public. We've been fed enough BS already.. defending crypto
> with ready-made arguments that sound good and don't conjure up images
> of firearms is no different to me than spinning a long tale about
> Iraqi terrorists and drug dealers that conjure up fear to support the
> ban on weapons.

	I'm not advocating "ready-made" arguments.  Rather, I'm 
	suggesting that we get rid of an *analogy*.  An analogy isn't
	the truth.  In this case, it's a way to frame the truth 
	for non-technical people.  Dropping an analogy is subtracting
	BS, not adding it.

	Now, I'm not saying analogies are evil, but the analogy
	to firearms is a *bad* one, and it stands to give people
	the misconception that crypto is many things that it is 
	not (not to mention including <stigma.h>).

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

> > 	The implicit connection between crypto and weapons is what 
> > 	will allow the feds to cater to that fear to get it banned.
> I understand this. They've got us good. Those that would ban crypto 
> would have the public believe that we are all a bunch of crazy, paranoid
> math/computer geeks

	Well, after all, once we perfect the neural interface, we _will_ 
	all become munitions.

> If we are going to combat this stuff, it is going to have to be by
> fighting that fear, and not throwing around horse-shit arguments like
> big business and the government do. 

	You can't fight fear unless you remove some misconceptions.
	The association with firearms (which is in turn associated
	by the gov't to baaad things) is only going to cause 
	misconceptions in the public arena.	

> If we are going to ease the fear of _guns_, then responsible adults need
> to start (or further) gun clubs. 

	This is, IMHO, the wrong way to remove the fear caused by
	the crypto-firearm analogy.  The right way is to drop the 
	analogy, because it's flawed.  I agree that people should
	be less afraid of guns, but you just don't have TIME to cure
	that, if you can at all.

> I think that we all know that the uses and benefits of strong crypto
> far outweigh the drawbacks. The uses are there, today. If we could plug
> strong crypto into the desktop; if the "Kick-ass-military-grade crypto ON"
> button were a click away from "Save as.." and if all that were sitting
> on John Q. User's naked Cindy Crawford desktop picture, then it would
> become as friendly to them as any other feature MS Word, and soon enough
> the very statement "Bad guys use crypto" begins to sound dumb because
> the fear isn't there anymore.

	..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."

> > 	If you stick with the line that "crypto, like a gun, can
> > 	be used by good guys as well as bad guys," you'll give
> > 	across the opposite impression.
> But it can. Just like a beeper or a car can. Just like any sort of
> technology can. This is the truth, and I'm not in the business of
> lying.


	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.  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 

	It is chillingly naive to defend an argument on the grounds
	that when dissected logically it is a true statement.  
	Do you approve of the government repeatedly warning people that 
	"crypto can be used by terrorists!"  It is, after all, a true 
	statement!  How about the next time you walk through airport 
	security you say, "I could have concealed explosives in my pants."  
	True statement, and you're not in the business of lying.  Would you 
	consider yourself less honest for not saying it?

	See, whatever the truth value of the statement, the end
	result is the suggestion of a lie.  

> I'm sure you are right.. but defending them like that is the _truth_
> any technology _can_ be used for good or evil.. we have to stop the
> people, not the technology. Even though your method may work a little
> more efficiently, it tries to cover over the truth; to hide it.

	Dropping a flawed analogy isn't covering the truth.  Rather,
	keeping the analogy distorts the truth.  It scares and 
	alienates people and makes them think cryptography is this
	weird stuff they'll never personally use which is less
	like a PIN number on steroids and more like plastique.
	And this is the last thing we need.

> Michael J. Graffam (mgraffam@mhv.net)