[cryptography] motivation, research ethics & organizational criminality (Re: Forward Secrecy Extensions for OpenPGP: Is this still a good proposal?)

John Kemp john at jkemp.net
Fri Sep 13 08:49:03 EDT 2013

On Sep 13, 2013, at 8:10 AM, Adam Back <adam at cypherspace.org> wrote:
>> “In the 1960s students at MIT protested strongly against having a
>> classified research laboratory on the campus and MIT said we will divest
>> it, so it won’t be part of MIT anymore,” said Leslie.  “It still exists in
>> Cambridge, but it’s not officially connected.” Leslie also points to
>> Stanford, where they made the decision for their Stanford Research
>> Institute to disaffiliate and become an independent non-profit.
> Psychopaths are a minority, and people on the top end of crypto/maths skills
> are sought after enough to easily move jobs even in a down market - so the
> "must collect pay-check" argument seems unlikely.

I agree that psychopaths are rare, but there is perhaps another person who might take such a position; a principled person who believes that this kind of activity is needed in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

Personally, I don't feel that the threat justifies what has been done, but I do know gifted and intelligent people who do -- who feel that their work is justified because people want to be kept safe from terrorism (and there is little argument, I think, that people, by and large, _do_ want to be protected from terrorism.) 

> So I stand by my argument
> that they probably scored an own goal on the retention and motivation front. I think for the majority of people - they wont like to go to work, or will
> feel demotivated, feeling the world is sneering at their employer as a
> quasi-criminal org.

Mostly, I'd agree, there would be such an effect on people previously unaware that, say, their research had been used for quasi-criminal operations. But there are also people who just like to break things - whose motivation comes from that alone, and who are excited to be paid to do that. 

And finally, there is another group of potential employees - people who might otherwise have been in jail, but are not because they are now "gainfully employed".

I would note that there is historical precedent for all of this - cold war double agents, for example - many of whom were incredibly principled people or people who were being blackmailed for one reason or another. Humanity has not outgrown political naiveté and exploitation of vulnerable people has it? 

- johnk

> Adam
> On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:05:58PM +0200, David D wrote:
>> Quote, " You've got to think (NSA claims to be the biggest employer of
>> mathematicians) that seeing the illegal activities the US has been getting
>> up to with the fruits of their labour that they may have a mathematician
>> retention or motivation problem on their hands."
>> You mean like the principled mathematicians working on cluster bombs,
>> drones, and other "cool shit"?
>> Everyone at the NSA knows exactly what they are doing.
>> I suspect, like most that suck off the military-industrial complex tit,
>> there is surprising low turnover.
>> Paychecks only go so far with the principled, but spineless will collect a
>> check forever and do whatever it takes to keep it coming.
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