John Bowers

John Bowers

2017 Undergraduate Fellow
Social Studies

Thesis title and description:

“Surveillance, Cryptography, and Sociopolitical Power in the United States”

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosures regarding the scope and mechanisms of the United States government’s surveillance apparatus, debates surrounding the role and proper bounds of domestic mass surveillance have assumed a central place in American political discourse. While many within the national security and law enforcement establishments consider the regulated collection and analysis of signals intelligence information pertaining to Americans instrumental to ensuring public safety, significant swaths of the public—and the technological elite—fear that such collection threatens to impinge on basic natural and constitutional rights. As an increasingly ubiquitous and easily accessible technology uniquely well suited to frustrating the data-penetration efforts of a sophisticated adversary, public-key cryptography has become a favorite tool of these surveillance-wary privacy advocates and, in many cases, their customer bases. My project seeks to examine the manner in which cryptography mediates and reshapes the dynamics of power between individuals, populations, and the United States government. In examining the implications of modern cryptographic praxis for the exercise and limitation of state power, I hope to better understand the motivations and challenges behind the current discourse surrounding the governmental regulation of strong encryption.