The Moral character of Cryptographic Work (see here)
brings up so many issues that it could be the topics for at least 5 blog posts. I've already done one here, and today I'll do another. As I said in the first post I urge you to read it even if you disagree with it, in fact, especially if you disagree with it. (Possible Paradox- you have to read it to determine if you disagree with it.)
Should a department take into account if someone understand the social and ethical issues with their work?
1) I'll start with something less controversial. I've sometimes asked a job candidate `why do you work on X?' Bad answers:
Because my adviser told me to.
Because I could make progress on it.
Because it was fun to work on.
People should always know WHY they are working on what they are working on. What was the motivation of the original researchers is one thing they should know, even if the current motivation is different. If its a new problem then why is it worth studying?
2) In private email to Dr. Rogaway he states that he just wants this to be ONE of the many issues having to do with job hiring (alas, it usually is not even ONE). As such, the thoughts below may not be quite right since they assume a bigger role. But if you want to make something a criteria, even a small one, we should think of the implications.
3) In private email to Dr. Rogaway I speculated that we need to care more about this issue when interviewing someone in security then in (say) Ramsey theory. He reminded me of work done in pure graph theory funded by the DOD, that is about how to best disable a network (perhaps a social network talking too much about why the Iraq war is a terrible idea). Point taken- this is not just an issue in Security.
4) What if someone is working on security, funded by the DOD, and is fully aware that the government wants to use her work to illegally wiretap people and is quite okay with that. To hold that against her seems like holding someone's politics against them which I assume all readers of this blog would find very unfair.. OR is it okay to hire her since she HAS thought through the issues. The fact that you disagree with her conclusion should be irrelevant.
5) What if she says that the DOD, once they have the tech, will only wiretap bad people? (see here)
6) Lets say that someone is working on cute crypto with pictures of Alice and Bob (perhaps Alice is Wonderland and Bob the Builder). Its good technical work and is well funded. It has NO social or ethical implications because it has NO practical value, and she knows it. Should this be held against her? More so than other branches of theory?
7) People can be aware of the social and ethical issues and not care.
8) The real dilemma: A really great job candidate in security who is brilliant. The work is top notch but has serious negative implications. The job candidate is clueless about that. But they can bring in
grant money! Prestige! Grad Students! I don't have an answer here but its hard to know how much to weigh social and ethical awareness versus getting a bump in the US News and World Report Rankings!
What does your dept do? What are your thoughts on this issue?