Twice in just a couple of weeks, I heard a reference to Phil Rogaway’s thought-provoking talk: “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work:” slides, video. I truly believe in the social obligations of scientists, and specifically of computer scientists. As for the specific points made by Phil, there are arguments both ways (see for example, the discussion with Adi Shamir starting at 1:03:50).
In this post, I would like to raise one of Phil’s 12 specific suggestions: “Figure out what research would frustrate the NSA. Then do it.” I have quite a bit of sympathy for this point of view. But in the world we live in, isn’t the view of government as “enemy number one” a bit outdated? How about the thousands of companies spying on us constantly and carelessly abusing our personal information? And what research would frustrate those privacy violators? Perhaps research on the most effective possible governmental regulations ?!? Oops …
Please let us know what you think.
Full disclosure: I have been employed by three big technology companies and have recently received research fellowship from a fourth (to study privacy). I was also, and still am, the recipient of governmental research grants. So I guess that so far my research is more pleasing than frustrating to both companies and governments.