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Digital Humanities Meet Up
October 8, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
| Cowell Provost House
Join the Digital Humanities campus community for a Fall Quarter Meet Up. This is an opportunity to meet digital scholarship practitioners across campus and connect as we start a new year. The Meet Up is informal: please invite colleagues interested in building a DH portfolio and learning more about digital scholarship.
Zac Zimmer, Assistant Professor of Literature, will present a short paper, “Cryptography, Subjectivity and Spyware: From PGP Source Code and Internals to Pegasus,” to kick off a DH-focused conversation related to the 2018 – 2019 THI theme, Data and Democracy.
Read Cyberwar for Sale beforehand and come prepared to discuss the issues
This brief intervention will use two examples from the world of secure communications to explore the intersection of global norms of privacy and local conceptions of political subjectivity.
The first example is a book published by Philip Zimmermann and MIT Press in 1995. That 900-page tome was a hard copy print out of the source code for his open source implementation of the public-key RSA cryptosystem. In the early 1990s, Zimmermann was being prosecuted by the US Government for distributing his software. By publishing his source code as a book, Zimmermann claimed free speech protections, while resourceful users knew that by scanning the pages they’d be able to compile their own versions of the software. PGP has since gone through several iterations, yet remains a global standard for email encryption. And yet it is not foolproof. In 2017, The Citizen Lab reported an exploit used by the Mexican state. “Pegasus,” produced by the Israeli cyberarms firm the NSO Group, allowed Mexican authorities to surveil and target Mexican lawyers, journalists, activists, and others. Pegasus uses social engineering and “spear-phising” attacks to compromise communications systems. There is no cryptographic solution to Pegasus.
Through tracing the trajectory from PGP to Pegasus, I pose the following questions: Is there a work-around to surveillance society? Will Big Data recognize any other civil rights framework, other than “privacy”? Is there a way to “transmediate” cryptographic protocols, in the spirit of Zimmermann and MIT Press’ collaboration, in order to protect against exploits like Pegasus?