Why I will not attend IEEE S&P 2015

I had planned to attend the 36th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. But this year I will not, since in its list of sponsors I saw the logo of the National Security Agency, an immoral and criminal organization. The acceptance of such a sponsorship by a major security conference tarnishes our field. I feel duty-bound to act against it, by non-participation if nothing else.

If any security researcher had promulgated a backdoored pseudorandom number generator and paid off a vendor to deploy it, had intercepted and tampered with other researchers’ postal mail, had conspired to infiltrate standards bodies to reduce the security of standards (!), and had lied repeatedly when questioned about it; if any researcher had done a tenth of what the NSA has done, they would be rightly ostracized from the community for their lack of ethics; their career would be over. By accepting the NSA’s sponsorship, you grant legitimacy to illegitimate practices. It gives the unavoidable impression that the IEEE will ignore its ethical standards if one is willing to pay enough. This sponsorship cannot be worth a tie to an organization whose goals are contrary to security and privacy.

It is not only my freedom you endanger. By associating with the NSA, you are helping to tie a rope around your own neck. We will all one day have cause to regret the creeping acceptance of mass surveillance.

David Fifield
April 7, 2015