Eurocrypt 2020 / Distributed Criminal Sentencing

I’m going to try something a little different here, and post an update on multiple things. I recently attended Eurocrypt online which was pretty interesting. This was actually my first time attending Eurocrypt. It was completely done online over Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were a couple of interesting arguments about which platforms to use, but the conference organizers ended up picking Zoom because of scalability issues.

A lot of people on the Zulip chat for the conference praised the 5-minute long mini-presentations that were given but I found this was just not the structure for me. Here are some papers I found compelling from this years conference, there were several great papers on secret sharing.

I’m also planning to attend the Algorithmic Number Theory Symposium this year which is going to be facilitated in roughly the same way. I don’t mind the virtual conferences, but I think if this continues into the fall and winter I will probably decide against submitting papers or attending many more. The novelty is already starting to wear off for me.

Distributed Criminal Sentencing

I recently saw an interesting talk Robin Hanson gave at HCPP19 called Who Vouches For You?:A Radical Crime Law Proposal, in which he presented an idea for a kind of criminal insurance system. His idea is kind of silly and involves a voucher system for legal liability.

Similar to automotive insurance in the US, you require everyone to be insured for various criminal and civil legal liabilities. One of the main tenants of his idea is that you would have friends all pool their cash to sort of vouch for each other and all be co-liable together.

He specifically proposes this would create a social disincentive for criminal actions, since you would be harming your friends who were liable monetarily for you.

I think if Hanson read this he would say I am not summarizing his idea well which is true, but I’m not really putting in the effort to do so. Watch the video above if you want to try to tangle apart his convoluted and impractical design for the idea. My key takeaway was that it got me thinking about an interesting idea that might make for a fun science fiction setting.

Specifically, the idea of creating community culpability is an interesting starting point for other concepts. We can imagine a setting where criminal sentences are not always tied to a specific individual’s body or identity but are instead distributable.

What I mean by this is a person convicted of a crime could have others such as friends or family serve a portion of the sentence in the place of the individual who was convicted.

You could use a distributed criminal sentence like this as a check the criminal justice system. Say a person charged with a controversial case was convicted fairly by a court of law.

In a system with distributed criminal sentencing, various protestors who disagreed with the sentence could protest for the person’s freedom by doing the prison time vicariously for the person who was convicted.

An obvious issue with this is that rich people would instantly attempt to pay random people to do their jail sentences for them. To disincentivize this there would have to be some sort of law making it illegal (with a non-suspendable sentence) to pay off individuals to do your jail time.

This idea is completely unrealistic, and I highly doubt any state would ever consider creating such a system. The potential for abuse would just be too great to ever make it useful from a governance perspective. It would make for a neat legal system in a fictional dystopian setting though.