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Can cryptographic algorithms affect legal doctrines?

Legal principles, philosophy and doctrines are the pillars of modern society. It is tempting to believe that, while specific laws and regulations adapt to the particular technologies of the time, the basic legal doctrines remain unchanged – and guide us in regulating and harnessing technology.

This talk will present situations where technological feasibility, accompanied with appropriate theory-of-computation reasoning, impacts not only specific laws and regulations, but also some basic legal doctrines. Specifically, these are situations where justified secrecy and privacy rights regarding sensitive information is pitted against equally justified transparency, accountability, and due process rights pertaining to the same information.

Current legal doctrines accept the seemingly inevitable reality the not all rights can be honored, and instead aim at   “balancing the harms” on all sides.   In sharp contrast, cryptographic concepts such as Zero-Knowledge Proofs and Secure Multi-Party Computation enable legal processes that do honor all rights. 

Moreover, these technologies enable fine-grained delineation of what partial information should be disclosed and to whom, thus opening the door to more nimble legal doctrines and thinking regarding the ownership, sharing, and use of information in a modern society.

The talk will be mostly based on the following two papers:

  • Kenneth Bamberger, -, Shafi Goldwasser,  Rebecca Wexler, Evan Zimmerman:  Verification Dilemmas in Law and the Promise of Zero-Knowledge Proofs.  Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2022).
  • Dor Bitan, -, Shafi Goldwasser, Rebecca Wexler: Using Zero-Knowledge to Reconcile Law Enforcement Secrecy and Fair Trial Rights in Criminal Cases. SSRN  (2022).

Ran Canetti

Professor of Computer Science,
Boston University


Ran Canetti

Ran Canetti is a professor of Computer Science in Boston University, where he directs the center for Reliable Information System and Cyber Security. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery  and the International Association for Cryptologic Research, and an incumbent of the RSA Award in Mathematics.

Canetti’s research interests lie primarily in  cryptography and information security, with emphasis on the design, analysis and use of cryptographic algorithms and protocols. Recently he has been studying ways for the co-design of algorithms, law, and policy so as to provide sound foundations for society in the information age.