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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the Editor

For Privacy and Security, Use Public Keys Everywhere

Letters to the Editor


Many ACM members concerned about the recent disclosures of massive worldwide surveillance of civilians wonder how to respond. My recommendation is to use public keys for all electronic communication and storage.

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CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor of the December 2013 CACM (
-- CACM Administrator

James Geller raised important questions in his letter to the editor "Beware BYOD" (Sept. 2013) but mixed learning and assessment with the practicalities of supporting multiple devices. He highlighted possible outcomes "distraction, cheating, more cheating, still more cheating" along with the possibility that incompatibility between devices could result in poor grades, but failed to propose ways to address them.

In today's digital environment, where the simplest online search can turn up more information than will ever be found in a physical classroom, educators must confront the always-present interconnected nature of these devices by changing the way they teach. The traditional model of didactic lecturing from a podium before a classroom of students should complement collaborative activities, where students learn to research, filter, judge, and create their own learning. Educators must provide an "on-ramp" for them to acquire these skills in the context of the subject being covered and ensure assessment practices are an opportunity to demonstrate individual achievement.

Software and hardware fragmentation has always been an issue for educators, but with declining educational budgets in public institutions across Europe and the U.S., we must acknowledge that many students arrive with better technology in their pockets than is likely to be provided by the academy. Free/open-source software and virtualization are potential solutions, either standardizing on technologies students access and install themselves or providing applications not available through a virtualized server platform.

The related potential solutions are neither straightforward nor cheap, but educators must at least be willing to acquire the skills needed to address the changing worldview and technical competence of the students in their classrooms, who, as digital natives, will have always had access to these technologies.

Barry Avery
London, U.K.

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