The Politics of Encryption: Snowden, Surveillance, & the 4th Amendment

U48 Comm 383 01: The Politics of Encryption: Snowden, Surveillance, & the 4th Amendment
Washington University in St. Louis
Dept. of Communications

Spring 2017
Wed 5:30–7:30 p.m.
January 18–May 10 2017
Cupples I 218

On this page…

    Instructor: Scott Granneman

    You can also read my full CV.

    Course Description

    In 2013 Edward Snowden disclosed the existence—and extent—of world-wide government surveillance, leading to important debates about encryption, surveillance, and control. This course will examine the nature of Snowden’s revelations and the effects they have caused. Topics will include encryption and secure communications, the use of encryption by terrorists and criminals, United States and international laws concerning encryption, policy and law related to the 4th Amendment, and the legal clash between businesses like Apple and US intelligence agencies.

    Required Texts

    Readings will consist of articles, analyses, & ephemera from the Internet & other sources, all of which will be provided on this website.


    Your grade will be based on the following factors:

    Class attendance and participation in discussion (20%): You are expected to attend class prepared to contribute to the ideas & techniques we bring up in lectures and discussions, as well as react to any assigned readings. We may also work on in-class exercises, and you are expected to take an active part in those as well.

    Online participation & comments (20%): I will provide readings for you each week. Your job will be to read the assigned articles and then leave comments on those articles by using the comment feature at the bottom of every article. You will need to leave a comment on every article I assign, with 3 exceptions every week (in other words, you can pick any 3 articles every week on which you do not want to leave comments). Feel free to respond to other students’ comments as well—those count!

    One midterm paper (25%): Your midterm paper will be around 2500 words (I will check!), and should be about some topic relevant to the course. I must approve your paper idea. Students should double-check papers for spelling & grammar before submitting them.

    One final video (30%): You will create a 7-minute video or screencast which will act as your final for the course. For more info, see “The final video project: a guide”. I must approve your video idea.

    One final video presentation (5%): You will introduce your video with a short 3–5 minute presentation explaining why you chose your topic, how you made your video, and what you learned from the final project. You are not to produce slides or anything formal; instead, just stand up and talk with notes to the class.

    Grades will be based on an average of the above as follows:

    100 A+
    94-99 A
    89-93 A-
    86-88 B+
    83-85 B
    79-82 B-
    76-78 C+
    73-75 C
    69-72 C-
    66-68 D+
    63-65 D
    59-62 D-
    0-58 F


    Part I: Security & privacy

    Part II: Encryption & communication basics

    1. History of encryption & how encryption works
    2. Who encrypts? Why?
    3. Secure communications

    Part III: The 4th Amendment & the Law

    1. 4th Amendment
    2. Government agencies & the law
    3. 1990s crypto wars
    4. US government surveillance through history

    Part IV: Edward Snowden’s revelations

    1. Snowden revelations
    2. Snowden revelations
    3. Snowden revelations

    Part V: Effects of Snowden’s revelations

    1. United States laws & policies
    2. United States laws & policies
    3. International reactions
    4. Terrorist & criminal reactions & use of encryption
    5. Backdoors: Apple & the FBI
    6. Final
    WebSanity Top Secret