Considering this background, it is perennially amusing to hear about decoded bible messages and the like, in which there is little doubt that the cipher was the message, and many ciphers had been tried on a large body of text in order to produce a handful of messages. Sure enough, it's another version of the "uncertainty principle". Paranoia, both the everyday variety and the clinical condition, follows similar a pattern. Namely, projecting meaning into possibly random circumstances (and, additionally, overestimating small probabilities). Ron Howard's portrayal of John Nash comes to mind.
In light of how misleading code interpretation can be, what is its source of fascination? It is a decidedly literal version of proverbial "search for meaning", and also carries a subversive attraction. On one hand it can be an appeal to authority, and on the other, an act of resistance. Intentional codes, including metaphor and other tropes, can disguise the transmission of knowledge to kindred spirits in a possibly hostile environment. The word "code" can likewise refer to the ordering principles of a group, as in a secret society. In the end, everyone wants to be an "insider".
In today's political climate, is it surprising that during the "war on terror" and related controversies regarding privacy, the right to encrypt has not faced a greater challenge? Probably not. It would be difficult to enforce, and intelligence agencies might feel, as is often (amusingly) the case in the corporate world, that an email's sender and recipients can be just as telling as its content. Insofar as an encrypted message would then in itself constitute a "red flag", steganography would become more important anyway.
In the 1980s, David Chaum of MIT produced some crytpographic research with a potentially more intimate bearing on politics. Namely, a cryptographic protocol for online elections. The special problem that online elections represent (from a cryptographic standpoint, at least) is as follows. The election results must be verifiable and correct. Only registered voters should be permitted to vote and only once. However, voting must remain anonymous. It should not be possible to determine who voted for whom. Chaum overcame this tension through an ingenious use of public key cryptography and blind signatures.
While the specific cryptographic problem was nicely solved, many obstacles still remain for the implementation of such a protocol. It is more work to forge physical identification, and so online voting might encourage the buying and selling of votes, or the identity theft of non-voters. Some actually argue that allowing votes to trade freely might be a good idea, but in any case, the more serious obstacle to online voting likely involves more gross and obvious methods of falsifying results outside of the encrypted transmissions, as one hears with regard to the Diebold systems in the 2004 presidential election. These systems were laughable in their security features, and fell far short of Chaum's work, regardless of the partisan circumstances. Clearly, traditional physical voting systems are also subject to fraud. Online elections might actually be more secure as data could be stored in multiple locations and later cross-verified to detect tampering by local agents. When I implemented such a protocol in 1997 as part of an undergraduate project, I also noted that online elections might have interesting effects insofar as they reduce the "cost" of physical voting, and that such technology could be used for "less serious" opinion collection where participants might also wish anonymity, as with television ratings and viewing habits. In a way, this is reverse data-mining: aggregating information while obscuring certain relations, with the aim of maintaining privacy.