David Chaum, Bringing Reality to the Information Era

by Scimson on March 16, 2014 - 8:35pm

David Chaum is a Doctor of Computer Science and Business Administration. His main work consist of researches in cryptography, that is the process of encoding data so that it can only be decrypted with a specific key. He is known for his work in two main areas related to cryptography, economics and democracy.

In the 1980s, he was associated with Digicash, one of the pioneer companies in the development of digital money. (Chaum) Using advanced cryptography to secure the identity of both the buyer and the seller, the team was able to develop the one of the first systems of electronic digital transactions. They are also at the origin of different prototypes such as a system to collect money from moving cars on highways instead of needing pay tolls, an electronic credit card which establishes a link between the banks and shops to confirm transactions. (Chaum)

The idea behind their Digicash’s research was both to innovate the current financial system as well as make sure it is secure for everyone. If we compare their ideas and prototypes to what currently exists in the world nearly 30 years after, they were on the right track. Systems similar to their automatic highway payment are already implemented around the world, including in Quebec with the A25 Bridge between Montreal and Laval. Even more obvious, our current credit card system which uses microchips works similarly. Using the shops’ connection they establish a connection with the credit card company to approve the transaction. However, compared to the system Chaum was envisaging, it is much less secure. The idea of the initial Digicash system was that the stores themselves would never have access to the person’s identity since the card would make the link instead of the store. (Chaum) According to Chaum, by entering a PIN number on a store device, there is a possibility it can be intercepted. (Chaum)

Furthermore, the work of Chaum in the economics world doesn’t only stop at transaction system. With his work in cryptography, including his paper “Security without Identification: Card Computers to Make Big Brother Obsolete”, he proposed the first idea of digital currencies independent of government. (Narayanan 2) An idea behind the so called cryptocurrencies was to implement a transaction system which prevents users from spending multiple times the same money, which was a major problem with banking systems. (2) Since 2009, real cryptocurrencies have been introduced in the online world and they represent Chaum’s idea of a government independent and transaction secured system. The most influent cryptocurrency, the Bitcoin, is worth multiple billions of dollars nowadays. Furthermore, the amount of different cryptocurrencies has been growing exponentially and numerous different possibilities exist from the multiple hundred dollars’ worth Bitcoin to the fraction of a penny worth Dogecoin.

Economics isn’t the only area which interested David Chaum. Amongst his most recent known works are digital election systems. With other researchers, he developed a system called Scantegrity. The system basically represents a secure digital system to vote anonymously and avoid fraud, which are easier to commit in the current system. (Chaum, David et al. 40) The idea is that each ballot receives an identification number independent of the person applying their vote on it. Also, each one has randomly assigned options for votes represented by codes rather than the true meaning of the vote. When those votes are entered into the system by a scanning machine, the voter can verify that his or her ballot number is correctly linked to the code representing their choice. (41) This system makes sure that the voter as well as his vote decision remains anonymous to anyone who would check the system as well as allow the voter to make sure there were no errors in the scanning process. (41) According to scantegrity.org, the official website, the system has been tested in 2011 for the municipal elections of the Takoma Park City.

I have recently written an article on the first bitcoin machine opening in Montreal. Bitcoins themselves are the first crypto currency that is a form of currency which relies upon cryptography for transaction and security with no government affiliation. The creator or creators of bitcoins are anonymous and they went by the name Satoshi Nakamoto. They stated their idea in 2009 and abandoned it in 2010 even though it kept growing to become a highly valued currency today. David Chaum might not be the creator of these types of currencies, but without his work and development in the security of digital transaction and communication, such systems would probably be too insecure to exist seriously. In conclusion, I believe David Chaum is a great example of innovation. He has contributed to help our society upgrade toward the information era. It is with the work of such individuals that our society can progress toward technology while also keeping the security of pen and paper.


Works Cited

Chaum, David. “Achieving Electronic Privacy.” Scientific American (August 1992): p. 96-101. Web. 14 Mar. 2014    

Chaum, David et al. “Scantegrity: End-to-End Voter-Verifiable Optical-Scan Voting.” IEEE Security & Privacy (May-June 2008): p. 40-46. Web. 14 Mar 2014.

Narayanan, Arvind. “What Happened to the Crypto Dream?, Part 1.” Princeton University: p. 2-3. Web. 14 Mar 2014.