What have the cryptographers ever done for us?

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What Have the cryptographers ever done for us? is a proposed video series dealing with issues of cryptography and information security. The name comes from a skit from Monty Python which, given the style of humour in the infotech community, may be appropriate. In the original, taken from one of krozruch's favourite films, The Life of Brian, the question posed was "What have the Romans ever done for us". The result is a list of things the Romans did indeed do. Many heavy users of computers and the internet do not understand the purpose of cryptography, do not know how they use it already, or understand why they might choose to use it more widely. The series will examine this topic.


To take a number of the key concepts and problems of infotech and discuss them in a way that may be understood by heavy but unsophisticated internet users ie. those who have an understanding of internet culture on the level of apps, social media, and entertainment, but not the underlying processes, code, and algorithms. Excluding those working in technical fields, this will essentially be practically everybody in the 16 - 45 age group not only in more developed countries (ie. everybody who does not "live off the grid"). Those who might most benefit from such a show, and who may be borne in mind if not directly addressed, are journalists, writers, lawyers, vulnerable people and minority groups, and the politically engaged. The show would fail, however, if it did not at least sketch out the idea that one of the requisites of the Open Society is freedom, privacy, and security for vulnerable individuals and groups and that rights work in much the same fashion as in the world of disease where resilience is delivered by herd immunity. The show will attempt to show how poor habits of computer usage will deliver and have delivered both costs to the individual and external costs in terms of damage to the rights of groups, harm to the level and style of public debate, the undermining of democratic norms, self-censorship, ketman, decommunilisation, and extremism. The show will advocate for a form of digital citizenship which respects privacy, is informed by a Millian conception of the liberty of thought and discussion, and acknowledges both rights and duties. It ought too to touch upon some of the counterarguments and the supposed danger of widespread use of cryptographic tools.

Cryptography does no exist in a vacuum. The series will attempt to give a social, political, and historical context for some of the issues surrounding cryptography.

Jitsi Meet follow-up sessions

It may be that the videos may have follow-up sessions which take place over Jitsi permitting viewers to ask questions and solicit advice relating to the previous topic.

Proposed running order and program concept

Each problem will be introduced with a use case, presented as an anecdote and/or in a way that a heavy but unsophisticated internet user will understand and probably recognise.

Possible topics

The introduction will be a show talking about the general concept, asking for feedback, questions, and use cases and framing some of the questions that will arise in the course of the series.
Internet shopping and banking
What most people use cryptography for
The laws of mathematics don't apply in Australia
The issue of regulation of cryptographic protocols. Looking into some of the cases in the EU, in the US etc.
The Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse
The Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse are problems often offered by politicians and intelligence agencies as reasons to ban or limit cryptography
The whys and the wherefores
Cyber warfare - botnets, malware, influence operations, and network resilience
Some of the above with a discussion of a handful of curated examples
The history of the cryptowars
Some of the stories and lessons from the Crypto Wars
Journalism and the fourth estate
What have mass surveillance, surveillance capitalism [and Facebook] done for and to journalism and how can some of these threats be countered?
Torrents and p2p
One of the ways heavy users have rubbed up against some of the freedoms, ethical questions, and the dangers of the internet
VPNs, Tor, i2p
Does a VPN make me safe
Digital rights management and the open internet
Net Neutrality
Not strictly about cryptography but cryptography does not exist in a vacuum
There's an app for that
Or is there. Are apps the way to go or does an emphasis on the current expectations - expectations schooled on closed smart phone operating systems
Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple
What do the big tech companies mean for privacy and security?
Should I install linux?
Do I have to install some unfathomable operating system to work safely on the internet
But what about quantum computers?!
no really, this should be a show. It is interesting conceptually (there is big hipster crossover here, and even Justin Trudeau thinks it's got hashtag potential), may help to address a whateverism among the too cool for school who love their phones and Netflix and Spotify and have x followers on Facebook or whatever and anyway don't see the point of making an effort when the NSA is probably sitting on quantum computers anyway. I suspect this is a thing. "Nobody understands quantum mechanics" but there is a certain class of people who like to try to sound cool by throwing around high concept ideas and buddhism / breatharianism / taoism because quantum mechanics is a whole primary coloured library shelf with shouty academic titles. This could be a fun, chatty episode where we go over a handful of cases and issues while throwing out a lot of thought experiments and what ifs. The quantum computer could be the notional end point of the continued advances in capabilities of the intelligence services and so, moving backwards, we could also address the problem of shifts in capability which relate to blockchain technologies and forward secrecy / deanonymisation etc.
Cyberpunks, libertarians, and the dark side of infotech
What are the more extreme positions that can be found without the broader infotech scene
Bitcoin and the blockchain
Not only the cryptographic side of things here
Recommendations for the open society
A summary, and possibly an extended show. This will present a case, founded on enlightened self interest, for what the government should do in the field of technology. It will also be recommendations for engaged citizens (and the strong message that one should aim to be an engaged citizen) in order to claim, defend, and enjoy their rights and freedoms.