I love The Codebreakers so far, but there’s one point where David Kahn and I disagree. Here’s the quote in question:
Now cryptanalysis has a potential that cryptography does not. Cryptanalysis can alter the status quo. Cryptography can at best conserve it. Cryptanalysis can bring countries into war, engender naval battles and win them, compel besieged cities to yield, condemn queens to death and prove innocent the unjustly accused. Cryptanalysis hammers upon the real world. Cryptography does not.
I couldn’t disagree more. This may have been true in the age where cryptography was only used by governments and military, but cryptography is shaping the world around us right now in the hands of regular folks. It allows people to communicate in private, as they would in their own homes; offers a path to secure, and with the advent of cryptocurrency, anonymous, online payments; keeps our browsing history out of the hands of those who would use it against us; and in some cases, can even aid in peaceful revolution.
Cryptography protects our most sacred rights: our right to free speech, our right to assemble peaceably, and our right to privacy. As the companies most of us depend on for communication collect and disseminate our data to advertisers and governments, cryptography offers a way out. There’s a reason the NSA fought to keep public-key cryptography out of the hands of the general public — ostensibly, it would make their signal intelligence activities more difficult, but after the Snowden revelations I don’t buy that excuse for a second.
With any freedom comes the possibility that someone will use that freedom to do evil. If people have freedom of speech, they might say something reprehensible. If they have the right to assemble, they might riot. If they have the right to privacy, they might do heinous things behind closed doors. But like Benjamin Franklin said:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.