CS8803: Security, Privacy, & Democracy

Georgia Tech, Spring 2024

InstructorTeaching AssistantTimeLocation
Michael A. Specter
Assistant Professor SCP & SCS
specter at gatech.edu
Delaney Gomen
delaney at gatech.edu
Tuesday & Thursday
9:30 AM - 10:30 AM
College of Computing
Room #103


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

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!

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:

  • the main contribution of the paper,
  • the paper’s strengths, and –importantly–
  • the paper’s 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.

NOTE: Only papers under the “Discussion Papers” heading are required. Everything else is optional, but highly encouraged.

Drop Policy: All students can drop 3 assigned papers (total) throughout the class. These drops can be done without approval.

Late Policy: All students have 2 late days for paper summaries that can be used throughout the class.

Distressing Content Policy: Students are encouraged to preview papers for upcoming classes. Many of the topics covered in this class revolve around limits to free speech, cases where there are likely to be incidents of harm and violence. If a student has used all their drops and finds an upcoming assignment distressing, they can contact the course staff at least 24 hours before the assignment deadline. Such requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis, usually with an alternative assignment or readings.

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. See the projects page for details.


Grading is broken down as follows:

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