Crypto and Cypherpunk Ethics

Link to module

Evaluated December 2021

This module draws upon the mediation theory of technology developed by Peter-Paul Verbeek to explore the ethical aspects of design in computer science. It looks at power structures between governments (particularly the US government) and individuals, and the ways that privacy, encryption, and strong encryption affect that power balance. This material could be used in a class on cryptography, cybersecurity, or technology law, for instance. Or a computer/technology ethics class, as it covers material that is not standard in most computer ethics textbooks.

This module covers material in Information, Assurance, and Security/Cybersecurity. 

Instructors adopting this module will find that it contains challenging material, covering ethics, security, socio-technical systems, and legal/regulatory issues. There is plenty of background provided directly and through links to other readings, and a great deal of helpful material like summaries of the readings (to help focus the instructor’s attention on key ideas), PowerPoint slides, reading guides and discussion questions. Instructors will find that through the reading, discussion, small group work, and applied exercises, students will have the opportunity to develop conceptual and practical knowledge about ethical design practices in their field. Since the module doesn’t require background in ethics or social theory students will be able to, through the readings and the questions, address key ideas.

An instructor adopting this module will want to make clear what students will learn through this module. There are elements present throughout the module that point toward assessment. An instructor might want to spend some time thinking ahead of how they can communicate the learning goals of this module to the students, and how they can assess these learning goals through the completion of students’ responses to reading questions and discussion questions in class. These considerations may also help instructors devise a rubric for assessment. 


The evaluation of this module was led by Judy Goldsmith and Darakhshan Mir as part of the Mozilla Foundation Responsible Computer Science Challenge. Patrick Anderson, Emanuelle Burton, Colleen Greer, Jaye Nias, Evan Peck, and Marty J. Wolf also made contributions. These works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.