CS8803: Security, Privacy, & Democracy

Georgia Tech, Fall 2023

Michael A. Specter
Assistant Professor SCP & SCS
specter at gatech.edu
Tuesday & Thursday
5:00 pm - 6:15 pm
College of Computing Room #52


Security, Privacy, and Democracy is an interdisciplinary research seminar with an emphasis on topics critical to a functioning democracy – voting systems, privacy, misinformation, censorship, and free and open communication.

We will cover both current and foundational research in applied cryptography and systems security, as well as in economics, policy, and law. Invited speakers from industry, government, and civil society organizations will offer guest lectures. Students will read and discuss published research papers, present research findings, and complete an original research project.

There are no official prerequisites for this class, though students are expected to be graduate students or advanced undergraduates interested in research in the area. Papers may require mathematical maturity, as well as a willingness to parse and study works from other disciplines

Course Outline

Paper Summaries & Discussion Questions

Every lesson will cover two papers on a specific subject. For each paper assigned, due at midnight EST the day before each class are:

  1. A 1-2 paragraph summary of the paper, and
  2. two discussion questions for the paper.

Paper summaries should cover both the main contribution of the paper, the paper’s strengths, and –importantly– its weaknesses. Submitted questions will be collated and used for our in-class discussion. Summaries and discussion questions will be graded pass/fail.

See the schedule for more information.

Weekly Presentations

Every week, a team of two will be assigned 20 minutes to present relevant research and policy developments that have come out since the assigned papers were published. Students presenting are exempt from that class’s Paper Summaries and Discussion Questions.


Students will form teams of 2-3 for a research project centered around the topics covered in class. Teams will provide both a written final report and presentation of the work during the final weeks of the class. There is no page limit for the work, although a rough estimate might be 5-15 pages for a technical paper, formatted using the class template. Exemplar student works will be published online on the course website for future class’s reference.


Grading is broken down as follows:

  • [20%] Paper Presentation
  • [30%] Paper Discussions and Questions
  • [10%] Class Participation
  • [40%] Final Project

Important Note

This syllabus is a living document and will be updated frequently with new information and speakers. Please check back often, and pay special attention to the schedule page!