Tribute to Ross Anderson

Professor Ross Anderson, who died on March 28, was a great friend and ally to Open Rights Group. He said in jest that we’d set it up “because FIPR wasn’t radical enough”, which if you knew Ross, was the kind of sharp but well-meaning remark you could expect from him. He knew which side you were on, and that pretty much determined how he would deal with you. He dealt with those who want mass, pervasive surveillance, or who tolerated security incompetence, endangering the lives of others, with short shrift, and to great effect.

Ross’ organisation, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, co-ordinated campaigning and activism. FiPR helped launch the activism of the late Caspar Bowden. Ross was right about his targets, and championed many causes long before others would pick them up. Targets include the claim of software infallibility, as seen in the Post Office, banks, identity fraud, the police; and of course, most importantly, the security agencies for their continuing war against encryption. His blogs are entertaining and clear about the motivations behind what looks like error: highlighting venality, cover-ups and other forms of narrow self-interest. Ross contributed to a blog with his Cambridge colleagues; Light Blue Touch Paper is a good place to find some of his accessible and clear explanations of the consequences when the state and private sector fail to do computer security competently.

For many years, Ross had been the the leading force against UK measures to limit encryption, winning an early unlikely victory against the Home Office, which had attempted to impose “escrow”, or universal keys, on encryption technologies. The “Scrambling for Safety” events Ross organised with Privacy International and later with ORG have been a regular feature of UK campaigns to safeguard against mass surveillance.

Most recently, Ross organised the fight against the latest attempts to undermine encryption by creating on-device scanning technologies. His academic work on this point, especially the paper Bugs in your Pocket brought together global encryption experts, and ensured that civil society was able to respond effectively. Ross’ work has had international impact, helping the push back against specific companies’ plans, and those of legislators, in Europe and the UK. As others have said much more eloquently, it is hard to know how the void his death leaves will be filled.

ORG would like to offer our condolences to Ross’ wife and family, and all his many friends.

See: Danny O’Brien’s post on Hacker News; Wendy Grossman’s post on Net.wars; The Register.