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Mathematicians Push Back Against the NSA 233

Posted by samzenpus
from the stop-adding-to-the-problem dept.
First time accepted submitter Parseval (3632761) writes "The NSA and GCHQ need mathematicians in order to function — they are some of the biggest employers of mathematicians in the world. This New Scientist article by a mathematician describes some of the math behind mass surveillance, and calls on other mathematicians to refuse to cooperate with the NSA/GCHQ while they continue to surveil the entire population. From the article: 'Mathematicians seldom face ethical questions. We enjoy the feeling that what we do is separate from the everyday world. As the number theorist G. H. Hardy wrote in 1940: "I have never done anything 'useful'. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world." That idea is now untenable. Mathematics clearly has practical applications that are highly relevant to the modern world, not least internet encryption.'"
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Mathematicians Push Back Against the NSA

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  • by davydagger (2566757) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @04:07PM (#46854305)
    The implications of mathematics are fairly abstracted in terms, but in an engineering driven society, math is behind everything we do.

    Encryption, the cornerstone of secure internet, is based on heavy math, and mathmatical relations.

    Heck, all computers algorythms are math, and math is needed to optimize them.

    statistics is what advertisers use to target ads, given access to people's personal information can draw mathematical relationships between habbits and demographics, and between demographics and desires, and strengths and weaknesses.

    Politicians use the same sort of advertising model to construct campaigns, and law enforcement/military, to target dissedents.
  • by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3&gmail,com> on Sunday April 27, 2014 @04:07PM (#46854307)
    Some years back I when I was working on my undergrad (BS Applied Math), I stopped by an NSA booth at the career fair. I asked if any of the signals intelligence work involved monitoring domestic communications. The recruiter panel said "No, it is illegal for us to spy on Americans and there are signs near every workstation that say so". Agreeing, I said, "well why do you still do it?".

    Ok so I was there to be antagonistic, but even five years ago the lower level guys knew what was going.

    College students can step up and stop joining there ranks. Here in North Carolina, my alma mator is suckling the teat and getting in bed further with them via a 60 million dollar data analytics lab [newsobserver.com]. There was some student protest in the form of people writing "Fuck the NSA" in chalk on buildings, but other than that, big U's are happy to cozy up closer to the feds.

    I ended up going into the private sector and look back thankful that I didn't join their ranks.
  • by erikkemperman (252014) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @04:18PM (#46854367)

    statistics is what advertisers use to target ads, given access to people's personal information can draw mathematical relationships between habbits and demographics, and between demographics and desires, and strengths and weaknesses.

    In fact, statistics is the one branch of mathematics that basically everyone in higher education comes across. Much to the chagrin of non-technical majors the world over. Which is too bad, because with zero intuition it is a really hard subject.

    But yes, mathematics touches on basically everything we do in IT, and I for one welcome this call for a debate about how ethical questions come into play for e.g. cryptographers.

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @04:38PM (#46854469)

    The United States became a free country due to General George Washington out-spying the British. Spying played an important role in defeating the Confederacy and freeing the slaves. Spying, including keeping the secret of the breaking of Enigma encryption, played an important role in defeating the Axis powers. Spying played an important role in resisting aggression by the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Spying is what found Bin Laden and has helped to prevent further successful attacks by al Qaida in the West.

    You want to end that streak I take it?

  • by paiute (550198) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @06:21PM (#46855039)
    Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at the N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people that I never met and that I never had no problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Send in the marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number was called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's walking to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the schrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorroids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure, fuck it, while I'm at it, why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

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