I love to see there is a lot of crypto discussions going on at DebConf. Maybe I'm skewed by my role as keyring-maint, but I have been involved in more than one discussion every day on what do/should signatures mean, on best key handling practices, on some ideas to make key maintenance better, on how the OpenPGPv4 format lays out a key and its components on disk, all that. I enjoy some of those discussions pose questions that leave me thinking, as I am quite far from having all answers.
Discussions should be had face to face, but some start online and deserve to be answered online (and also pose opportunity to become documentation). Simon Josefsson blogs about The case for short OpenPGP key validity periods. This will be an important issue to tackle, as we will soon require keys in the Debian keyring to have a set expiration date (surprise surprise!) and I agree with Simon, setting an expiration date far in the future means very little.
There is a caveat with using, as he suggests, very short expiry periods: We have a human factor sitting in the middle. Keyring updates in Debian are done approximately once a month, and I do not see the period shortening. That means, only once a month we (currently Jonathan McDowell and myself, and we expect to add Daniel Kahn Gillmor soon) take the full changeset and compile a new keyring that replaces the active one in Debian.
This means that if you have, as Simon suggests, a 100-day validity key, you have to remember to update it at least every 70 days, or you might be locked out during the days it takes us to process it.
I set my expiration period to two years, although I might shorten it to only one. I expect to add checks+notifications before we enable this requirement project-wide (so that Debian servers will mail you when your key is close to expiry); I think that mail can be sent at approximately [expiry date - 90 days] to give you time both to you and to us to act. Probably the optimal expiration periods under such conditions would be between 180 and 365 days.
But, yes, this is by far not yet a ruling, but a point in the discussion. We still have some days of DebConf, and I'll enjoy revising this point. And Simon, even if we correct some bits for these details, I'd like to have your permission to use this fine blog post as part of our documentation!
(And on completely unrelated news: Congratulations to our dear and very much missed friend Bubulle for completely losing his sanity and running for 28 hours and a half straight! He briefly describes this adventure when it was about to start, and we all want him to tell us how it was. Mr. Running French Guy, you are amazing!)