On Wednesday, the Trump administration appointed the renowned computer science professor Ed Felten to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). This is the first time that a nonlawyer has been appointed to the board, even though it has oversight responsibilities for a variety of complex technological issues.
The bias toward lawyers reflects a more general problem in the U.S. government. Lawyers dominate debates over privacy and technology policy, and people who have a deep understanding of the technological questions surrounding complex questions, such as cryptography, are often shut out of the argument.
Some days ago, I interviewed Timothy Edgar, who served as the intelligence community’s first officer on civil liberties and is the author of the book “Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA,” about the reasons government policymaking isn’t as open to technological expertise as it ought to be.
The U.S. policy debate over surveillance mostly overlooks the ways in which cryptography could assure the privacy of data collected by the NSA and other entities. What broad benefits does cryptography offer?
When people think about cryptography, they mostly think about encrypting data and communications, like emails or instant messages, but modern cryptography offers many more capabilities. Today’s debate over surveillance ignores some of the ways these capabilities might allow the public to have the best of both worlds: robust intelligence collection with ironclad, mathematically rigorous privacy guarantees.
The problem is that many of these capabilities are counterintuitive. They seem like magic to those who are not aware of how cryptography has advanced over the past two decades. Because policymakers may not be aware of these advances, they view intelligence collection and privacy as a zero-sum game: more of one necessarily requires less of the other — but that’s a false trade-off.
Read the full piece at The Washington Post.