Network Effects

Alex Taborrok of the excellent Marginal Revolution blog discusses some of network effects associated with public-key cryptography:

The cyber-anarchist world works in a thought-experiment when everyone demands privacy and as a result the technology for getting privacy is built into all of our communications structures and used as a matter of routine. But that's a description of an equilibrium and not a description of how to get there from here. At present, most people are not that bothered with privacy and so do not, for example, encrypt their email. As a result, privacy is not convenient even for those who want it. Indeed, someone who encrypts their email or phone conversations is probably calling more attention to themselves than they otherwise would.

The "getting there from here" problem should be familiar to anyone involved with political theory.

I'm more optimistic about the future of cryptography and its political ramifications than Taborrok. Communication systems in cyberspace are currently too vulnerable to those who would misrepresent themselves in order to spam, transmit viruses, and do other dastardly deeds. The more frustrated people become as a result of this, the more likely they will turn to encrypted communications as a solution.

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I don't think encrypting

I don't think encrypting personal communications gives the user a large benefit in the first place. Unless I was involved in some illegal activity, I don't need to use encryption. When I purchase something online, the website I am purchasing from (i.e. Amazon.com) will have the security embedded into their interface. When I activate a new credit card, I must dial from my home number so their Caller ID can verify who I am. Even in other phone transactions, challenge phrases and questions are used to verify my identity.

Personally, I am more worried about the minimum wage waiter I just gave my credit card to than someone listening to my phone conversations. Even if someone was to steal my identity and charge up a big bill, the credit card company takes care of it. This happened to a co-worker of mine and he hardly had to do anything and when he checked his credit report everything had been fixed.

Finally, I see with so many different type of security measures and systems folks have to deal with, many people start to use the same password and pin for all their activities. In the end this is even less secure than before. If crime was severely punished, the incentive to commit them may get diminished. Just my opinion.

One of the primary

One of the primary advantages of encryption in electronic communications is that without it, one cannot verify the identity of the sender. Spammers and virus writers are able to abuse this loophole and get unwanted messages through by pretending to be someone else. Given the current system of unencrypted email standards, I dont think there is any way to avoid these abuses.

Also, depending on how you feel about the recent RIAA crackdowns, encrypted p2p file-transferring is going to become much more popular.

Tabrrok got this much wrong:

Tabrrok got this much wrong: Internet gambling has not been quashed.

The Demise of Internet

The Demise of Internet Gambling?
Less than two years ago Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution wrote (emphasis added):

Crypto anarchists and cyber-libertarians promised a new world of privacy and liberty built on the foundations of the internet and public key cryptography. As David...