The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Author: Phillip Rogaway

Date: December 2015

Abstract: Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension. The Snowden revelations motivate a reassessment of the political and moral positioning of cryptography. They lead one to ask if our inability to effectively address mass surveillance constitutes a failure of our field. I believe that it does. I call for a community-wide effort to develop more effective means to resist mass surveillance. I plead for a reinvention of our disciplinary culture to attend not only to puzzles and math, but, also, to the societal implications of our work.

Note: This is a paper I wrote to accompany my invited talk at Asiacrypt 2015. It is not a standard research paper. The talk was delivered on December 2, 2015, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Reference: Phillip Rogaway: The moral character of cryptographic work. Cryptology ePrint Archive, Report 2015/1162. 2015. Bibtex citation

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Press and blog coverage: boingboing (Cory Doctorow) · Schneier on Security · The Atlantic (Kaveh Waddell) · tweet by Chris Soghoian · tweet by WikiLeaks · adactio (Jeremy Keith) · Guardian opinion (John Naughton) · Yahoo tech (Alyssa Bereznak) · Bristol blog · No cutesy adversaries (Jeff Burdges) · nine to noon (Kathryn Ryan) (audio) · YahooNZ-1 (video) and YahooNZ-2 (video) and YahooNZ-3 (video)

Some things I don’t say: For reasons unknown, Chatterjee, Koblitz, Menezes, and Sarkar (2016) (update) attribute to my essay a set of claims (update) that I neither make nor believe. While I promptly informed the authors that they were misrepresenting what I write and think, they responded that they stand by their claims. I guess these authors must what I wrote and believe better than I do. Please read the actual essay, not a highly inaccurate summary of it.