Crypto Wars: Plus ça Change, Plus c'est la Même Chose

Susan Landau

Susan Landau

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

THURSDAY April 21th, Noon, Room 110

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The US government and cryptographers, industry, and academia faced of in the 1990s over the ability to use strong encryption. The government's tool of choice to prevent deployment was export controls. In 1996 the National Research Council issued a report on cryptography policy that concluded "On balance, the advantages of more widespread use of cryptography outweigh the disadvantages"; in 2000, the US government substantively loosened export controls. Deployment was nonetheless slow --- until the Snowden disclosures. Apple and Google's efforts to provide easy-to-use, widely deployed consumer encryption has clashed with FBI and Department of Justice investigative techniques, and twenty years later, we are in Crypto Wars II. This talk will explain the conflicts and equities involved.


Susan Landau works at the intersection of cybersecurity, national security, law, and policy. During the Crypto Wars of the 1990s, her insights on how government encryption policy skewed civil society and business needs for security helped win the argument for a relaxation of cryptographic export controls. Beginning in the early 2000s, Landau was an early voice in the argument that law-enforcement requirements for embedding surveillance within communications infrastructures created long-term national-security risks.  Her position that securing private-sector telecommunications was in the national-security interest ran contrary to public thinking at the time and deeply influenced policy makers and scholars. Landau's book "Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies," (MIT Press) won the 2012 Surveillance Studies Book Prize, while "Privacy on the Line: the Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption"co-authored with Whitfield Diffie (MIT Press, 1998) won the IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Literary Contributions Furthering Public Understanding of the Profession and the McGannon Book Award for Social and Ethical Relevance in Communication Policy Research. Landau has testified to Congress and frequently briefed US and European policymakers on encryption, surveillance, and cybersecurity issues. Landau is Professor of Cybersecurity Policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and has previously been a Senior Staff Privacy Analyst at Google, a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, and a faculty member at the University of Massachuestts and Wesleyan University. A 2015 inductee in the Cybersecurity Hall of Fame and a 2012 Guggenheim fellow, Landau was a 2010-2011 fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the recipient of the 2008 Women of Vision Social Impact Award. She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Association for Computing Machinery. She received her BA from Princeton, her MS from Cornell, and her PhD from MIT.