Why Seife's request for ex-NSA mathematicians to speak out is a difficult on…

By | September 17, 2013
Why Seife's request for ex-NSA mathematicians to speak out is a difficult one

It certainly would be an interesting revelation, if some professor did speak out. But I can understand that such would be very difficult to do. To be effective, there are more or less two routes:

1) Press: A mathematician would need to be able to explain their work to the press, without stating what their (or others) work could accomplish if used in the wrong way, but such that the press is able to understand the significance of it. That's not too easy.

2) Self-publication: Like Charles Seife, to write their own article about their experience, and manage to draw enough attention to it. Again, here there needs to be enough content to catch attention, but it is perhaps easier to propose 'connect-the-dots' theories and not have them misquoted. But publicity isn't exactly a mathematician's strong point: typically word stays inside the math circles and doesn't travel much farther around society.

…Or maybe someone who is very geeky and well connected in the press, digital and mathematical worlds designs a 'mathleaks' site for mathematicians to offload potentially interesting discoveries, and geeky journalists (potentially crowdsourced) translate that into newsbits. But somehow I suspect that is far too specialized, and not monetizable enough, to be realized.

/via +Able Lawrence 

From One Former NSA Worker to the Rest: It’s Time to Speak Out
Most people don’t know the history of Von Neumann Hall, the nearly windowless building hidden behind the engineering quadrangle at Princeton. I found out my junior year, when, as a bright-eyed young math major, I was recruited to work at the National Security Agency. Von Neumann Hall was the former…

5 thoughts on “Why Seife's request for ex-NSA mathematicians to speak out is a difficult on…

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    +Per Siden ah, but how willing are people to do that right thing these days,given all the unspoken threats of what could happen to you do speak out? And to be really sure that your speaking out would make a positive difference?

    Reply
  2. Dirk Reul

    The basic premise behind Wikileaks is interesting, ultimately I agree with you, the climate for Whistleblowers has become toxic overall with government and corporate interests being rated higher than the discovery of illegal or dangerous activities and they are thusly prosecuted. 

    Reply
  3. Sophie Wrobel

    +Dirk Reul Wikileaks is in general more accessible than mathematical discoveries. That makes impact easier – and does allow whistleblowers to leak information anonymously. It's a model that at least allows information to be accessible.

    But operating such a platform is hell, not just because of security precautions but also legal and personal costs. How well platforms like that hold up against the state agencies? We all know what happened with Assange and Dotcom (who's relaunching mega soon, apparantly).

    Reply
  4. Dirk Reul

    All secret agencies, are by their very nature inclined to be used against people. It is rather naive to believe that their work is only used against "the enemy" whoever that may be under the current leadership. Frankly, when you are a US citizen and you have knowledge that this or any other agency deems important, you have lost your right to talk about it. Welcome to the world of post patriot act and other things that changed the laws in your country. Until a short time ago, I was certain that no one, even though it was technically feasible, would go through most of the data going through the Internet. Now we know better, we can get our tin foil hats out of the drawer and concede, that a lot of that was simply true. This includes mathematical solutions for crypto problems and data mining. 

    Like you said, most people will be unable to understand the impact of these discoveries and if they do, will that impact anything? Will people listen because what we thought was conspiracy theories, has turned out to be the truth? I am somewhat dismayed at the moment but I do think, that knowledge like this should be shared, I simply fail to see how it can be done without ending up being branded as a whistleblower in the US and other countries and being locked away for years. 

    Reply

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