Burdens of Proof

Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents

Jean-François Blanchette
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Burdens of Proof
    Book Description:

    The gradual disappearance of paper and its familiar evidential qualities affects almost every dimension of contemporary life. From health records to ballots, almost all documents are now digitized at some point of their life cycle, easily copied, altered, and distributed. In Burdens of Proof, Jean-François Blanchette examines the challenge of defining a new evidentiary framework for electronic documents, focusing on the design of a digital equivalent to handwritten signatures.From the blackboards of mathematicians to the halls of legislative assemblies, Blanchette traces the path of such an equivalent: digital signatures based on the mathematics of public-key cryptography. In the mid-1990s, cryptographic signatures formed the centerpiece of a worldwide wave of legal reform and of an ambitious cryptographic research agenda that sought to build privacy, anonymity, and accountability into the very infrastructure of the Internet. Yet markets for cryptographic products collapsed in the aftermath of the dot-com boom and bust along with cryptography's social projects.Blanchette describes the trials of French bureaucracies as they wrestled with the application of electronic signatures to real estate contracts, birth certificates, and land titles, and tracks the convoluted paths through which electronic documents acquire moral authority. These paths suggest that the material world need not merely succumb to the virtual but, rather, can usefully inspire it. Indeed, Blanchette argues, in renewing their engagement with the material world, cryptographers might also find the key to broader acceptance of their design goals.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30156-5
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the waning days of the summer of 2009, a full-blown media storm erupted over the qualifications of Barack Obama to serve as president of the United States, a controversy hinging on the claim that he had actually been born in Kenya, rather than in Hawaii. More ratings-friendly than health-care reform, the spectacle featured all of the usual elements of American conspiracy theories—lawsuits, websites, counter-websites, bumper stickers, and much cable news coverage of fringe characters. At the center of the controversy, the questioned authenticity of an ordinary bureaucratic artifact—the birth certificate.

    To counteract these claims, the Obama campaign...

  4. 2 Communication in the Presence of Adversaries
    (pp. 17-38)

    By all accounts, the face of cryptography has changed dramatically in the last twenty-five years.The Code Book, Simon Singh’s best-selling popular history of the field, describes it as the resolution of the centuries-old battle of wits between codemakers and codebreakers: “It is clear that cryptographers are winning the battle of information. Not only are today’s codes, in fact, unbreakable, but the key distribution problem has been solved.”¹Crypto, Steven Levy’s dramatic account of the birth of public-key cryptography, argues that “code rebels” created the military-grade tools necessary to ensure free and democratic access to electronic privacy in the coming...

  5. 3 On the Brink of a Revolution
    (pp. 39-62)

    By all accounts, 1976 marks one of the most important dates in the history of cryptography: the birth of the public-key paradigm. Two Stanford researchers, Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, presented a set of innovative cryptographic ideas in a landmark publication, “New Directions in Cryptography,” a paper that stands out not only for its scientific content but also for its self-awareness as a potential game-changer.¹ Opening with a prophetic “We stand on the brink of a revolution in cryptography,” it made an eloquent case that cryptographic devices would soon leave the confines of the military world to become ubiquitous fixtures...

  6. 4 The Equivalent of a Written Signature
    (pp. 63-92)

    The success of the public-key paradigm gave much impetus to Simmons’s research program for cryptography, one that sought to define and create digital analogues to the paper-based artifacts and protocols that provide for information integrity in the social world. Such analogues would have to perform in a radically different material environment than their paper-based counterparts, an environment where information objects are accessible only through the mediation of computing hardware and software, where the usual associations between the materiality of those information objects and their evidential value could no longer be presumed, where parties to the transactions would not be physically...

  7. 5 Written Proof
    (pp. 93-122)

    On March 13, 2000, France—the country that gave bureaucracy its name, where citizens must carry at all times theirpapiers d’identité, where administrative procedures are synonymous with intricate theatrical performances of forms, stamps, signatures, and countlesspièces justificatives—finally got around to legally defining written proof: “Civil code, art. 1316—Documentary, or written, evidence, results from a series of letters, characters, numbers, or any other signs or symbols endowed with an intelligible signification, whatever their media or the means of their transmission.”

    The clarification came hot on the heels of Henri III’s 1566Ordonnance de Moulins, France’s previous comprehensive...

  8. 6 Paper and State
    (pp. 123-158)

    On the way to Senate floor, the French bill on electronic signatures was augmented with a terse one-sentence amendment. It stated that “authentic acts can be established on electronic media if drafted and preserved under conditions established by decree from theConseil d’État.” In fewer than two dozen words, the amendment linked a documentary practice dating back to the Romans with the brave new world of electronic networks. The practice is simple: it consists of granting higher evidential value to documents produced byprofessional scribesvested with various degrees of authority by the state. Created following specific rules of form...

  9. 7 The Cryptographic Imagination
    (pp. 159-186)

    The laboratory setup displayed in figure 7.1 captures an intriguing dimension of modern cryptography. Hovering just above the surface of a computer chip, a simple homemade sensor measures the electromagnetic leakage that occurs as the chip performs the steps of a cryptographic algorithm. Various statistical treatments are then applied to these measurements in order to estimate the bits of the secret key and thus break the algorithm. Suchside-channelcryptanalysis was pioneered by Paul Kocher in 1999, when he realized that the mathematics of a cryptosystem could be subverted by adopting a completely different route than that envisioned by its...

  10. 8 Epilogue
    (pp. 187-190)

    In August 2010, a CNN poll revealed that only 42 percent of Americans believed that Barack Obama was “definitively born in the U.S.”¹ It would not be until the release of the original (paper) birth certificate in April 2011 that the nagging doubts over his eligibility to hold the world’s most prestigious office would finally subside. The presidency of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had been tainted by similar questions over the authenticity of a mundane paper artifact, the voting ballot. Indeed, the inability of voting ballots to deliver, even under intense scrutiny, conclusive evidence of voters’ intention threatened to...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 191-192)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-232)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-254)
  14. Index
    (pp. 255-276)