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Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents Hardcover – April 27, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Jean-François Blanchette has written more than the history of electronic signatures; this is a masterful account of how -- as we enter the digital age -- our ideas of authenticity remain solidly anchored in our analog past. What emerges is a gripping tale, untold so far, of high aspirations, dashed hopes, and an epic struggle. Uncovering why and how digital technologies fail to change professions and society, Burdens of Proof is a truly important book.

(Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Oxford Internet Institute)

This book is a wonderful weave of social and technical analysis of the history of cryptography, unified by a passion for exploring the material nature of computers. With grace and wit, Blanchette has produced a work which makes a major contribution to our understanding of complex configurations of the virtual and the real.

(Geoffrey C. Bowker, Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine)

A technology guaranteeing the authority of electronic documents would appear an essential tool of the digital age, which is why there is so much to learn from the failure to develop one. Jean-François Blanchette shows that understanding this failure requires addressing the historical evolution of contemporary cryptography and the legal concerns such a technology raises, together with a fearsome array of contextual issues ranging from state power to the materiality of mathematics. In contrast with the parochialism of much contemporary academia, Blanchette explains these events through an exemplary embrace of the requisite skills of a polymath.

(Daniel Miller, Professor of Material Culture, University College London)

Throughout his discussion, Blanchette offers keen insight into the interplay between cultural presumptions and biases inherent in both cryptographic and legal cultures.

(Law Library Journal)

About the Author

Jean-François Blanchette is Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Burdens of Proof (MIT Press).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (April 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262017512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262017510
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,573,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jean-François Blanchette is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on the evolution of the computing infrastructure --- the wires, data centers, protocols, and software abstractions that provide the material basis for computing services. Another focus is our current society-wide transition from paper to electronic documents and its implication for institutional accountability, historical memory, and personal identity.

Copies of papers available at:
http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/

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Format: Hardcover
When the IBM PC first came out 31 years ago, it supported a maximum of 256KB RAM. You can buy an equivalent computer today with substantially more CPU power at a fraction of the price. But in those 31 years, the information security functionality in which the PC operates has not progressed accordingly.

In Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents, author Jean-François Blanchette observes that the move to a paperless society (a completely paperless society is unrealistic, as articulately detailed in The Myth of the Paperless Office) means that paper-based evidence needs to be recreated in the digital world. It also requires an underlying security functionality to flow seamlessly across organizations, government agencies and the like. While the computing power is there, the ability to create a seamless cryptographic culture is much slower in coming.

The so called Year of the PKI has been waiting for over a decade, and after reading Burdens of Proof, it is evident why a large-scale PKI will be a long time in coming. More than that, getting the infrastructure in place in a complex environment that exists in the USA with myriad jurisdictions and technologies may prove ultimately to be impossibility.

The irony is that an effective mechanism for digital authentication would seem to be an indispensable part of the digital age. The lack of such an authentication infrastructure may be the very reason that fraud, malware, identity theft and much more, are so pervasive on the Internet.

The premise of this fascinating book is that the slow decline from the use of paper from a legal and evidentiary perspective has significant consequences.
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This book is terribly written. It offers a good background of the evolution of the field of ascertaining the authenticity of digital documents. That said, it outlines only problems without offering solutions. This would not be so bad if it was well written, but instead it is verbose, mostly constructed of quotes with some syntactic errors (although considering the heavy reliance on quotes, Blanchette does do quite well on that front).

Overall this will offer few insights to people familiar with some aspect of cryptography, though the different key types defined was something of interest to me and I had not come across it before. Realistically though, none of these new glimpses go very deep. Still, this is written by an academic, and the citations are literally (though not counting the index) a quarter of the book (60 odd pages of references to 192 of actual text).

The biggest failure here is that the book never offers a solution, rather it gives the state of affairs, and includes three interesting (although frustrating) case studies. What would have helped here, would have been to discuss maybe some options on how these could have been implemented better, or at least discussing all that is wrong with the result other than leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions. For instance: One case study mentioned using scanned physical signatures as part of a digital "seal" to be affixed to documents to indicate who processed/verified them, which was then treated as a "digital signature". To me this is clearly a bad thing. It's like making day old bread "fresh" by putting it in a toaster. You may not notice the bread was stale, but it still is not fresh.
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