The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Phillip Rogaway
2015 unpublished
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
more » ... re 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. Preamble. Most academic cryptographers seem to think that our field is a fun, deep, and politically neutral game-a set of puzzles involving communicating parties and notional adversaries. This vision of who we are animates a field whose work is intellectually impressive and rapidly produced, but also quite inbred and divorced from real-world concerns. Is this what cryptography should be like? Is it how we should expend the bulk of our intellectual capital? For me, these questions came to a head with the Snowden disclosures of 2013. If cryptography's most basic aim is to enable secure communications, how could it not be a colossal failure of our field when ordinary people lack even a modicum of communication privacy when interacting electronically? Yet I soon realized that most cryptographers didn't see it this way. Most seemed to feel that the disclosures didn't even implicate us cryptographers. I think that they do. So I want to talk about the moral obligations of cryptographers , and my community as a whole. This is not a topic cryptographers routinely discuss. In this post-Snowden era, I think it needs to be. This is an essay written to accompany an invited talk (the 2015 IACR Distinguished Lecture) given at Asiacrypt 2015 on December 2, 2015, in Auckland, New Zealand. The essay and talk are addressed to the cryptographic community-my community-and the words "we" and "our" should be so interpreted. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone with any of my comments; nothing of the sort is my intent.