In a stirring editorial in the New Scientist, University of Edinburgh mathematician Tom Leinster calls on the world's mathematicians to boycott working for the NSA, which describes itself as the "largest employer of mathematicians in the US" and which may the world's number one employer of mathematicians. Leinster suggests that mathematicians could refuse to work for the NSA, that university heads could refuse to grant professors leave to work at NSA or GCHQ, that national mathematical societies could refuse NSA job-posting ads, and even "expel members who work for agencies of mass surveillance."
At a bare minimum, we mathematicians should talk about this. Maybe we should go further. Eminent mathematician Alexander Beilinson of the University of Chicago has proposed that the American Mathematical Society sever all ties with the NSA, and that working for it or its partners should become "socially unacceptable" in the same way that working for the KGB became unacceptable to many in the Soviet Union.
Not everyone will agree, but it reminds us that we have both individual choices and collective power. Individuals can withdraw their labour. Heads of university departments can refuse staff leave to work for the NSA or GCHQ. National mathematical societies can stop publishing the agencies' job adverts, refuse their money, or even expel members who work for agencies of mass surveillance.
At the very least, we should acknowledge that these choices are ours to make. We are human beings first and mathematicians second, and if we do not like what the secret services are doing, we should not cooperate.
Maths spying: the quandary of working for the spooks [Tom Leinster/New Scientist]
(Image: ILGWU leaders address a crowded hall [Madison Square Garden?]. The banner above the podium reads: "On with the Strike -- On to Victory!", Kheel Center, CC-BY)
Two of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden are Prism (which give the NSA “bulk data” access to the servers of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others) and Upstream (through which the NSA taps the internet’s fiber optic backbones). Both are possible because of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance […]
Bill Binney resigned from the NSA in October 2001, after 30 years with the agency where he was viewed as one of their best analysts: he quit because he believed that Bush-appointed leaders in the Agency had chosen to respond to the challenge of electronic communications by building out illegal, indiscriminate mass-surveillance programs that left […]
The new data-sharing rules enacted by the Obama administration will allow the NSA to lawfully share the unredacted, full take of its surveillance databases with sixteen other US government agencies — meaning that, for example, Trump’s door-to-door deportation squads could use that data to figure out who’s doors to break down, and his Muslim surveillance […]
What could be more fun than a slingshot that shoots tiny airplanes? A slingshot that shoots tiny glowing airplanes of course! These toy planes are outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs, so you can fly all night without losing them in the trees.Whether you are a regular-sized child, or an overgrown adult one, these light-up flyers offer […]
You know the drill. You go to the dentist and they ask you how often you floss. You lie through your teeth and say, “every day!” (Bonus points if you have some cilantro or chives stuck in your gums from lunch). You don’t want to keep up the charade any longer, but rubbing that tiny strand […]
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done outstanding work packing a fully capable desktop computer into a package the size of a deck cards—especially one that only costs $35. But if you already have a working laptop, why should you care? Oh, how much you have to learn. Besides operating well as a compact digital media hub, […]