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Threat to our privacy
For Cypherpunks: A copy of mail I just sent to...
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
[This is being sent out to a wide audiance. If you receive this, its
My friends, its rare of me to try to encourage panic. Occassionally,
however, by panicing early we can avert a disaster later on.
Risks, an internet mailing list, reported about a week ago on a
proposal by Dr. Dorothy Denning, one of the most prominent people in
the field of cryptography, that copies of all private encryption keys
associated with public key cryptographic systems be held, effectively
by the government, to permit them to read people's encrypted messages
to each other. Naturally, such invasions of privacy will only be
permitted "when a warrant is produced". It has been suggested that
this idea might be taken up by several government agencies for
Many have noted that the dawning of cheap and effective cryptographic
systems could spell the end of the ability of governments to invade
people's privacy. Unfortunately, it appears that the government and
its cronies have also realized this, and intend to take preemptive
action. Our notion of civil rights has decayed so far that it is now
considered a citizen's duty to not merely be quiet while he is
enslaved but to actively cooperate with his own enslavement. Not
merely must we put up with the indignity of the government being
granted the right to read our papers and communications to each other,
not merely has the FBI attempted to get legislation passed to make
phone companies give them easier access to tap phone lines under color
of "maintaining the current capability in the presense of new
technology", but now it is suggested that we ordinary citizens must
personally cooperate to make it easier for them to read our
communications. We will be branded criminals if we fail to cooperate,
presuming that ideas like this are enacted.
It is crucial that the fiends proposing this be convinced that
resistance will be too high to implement their plan. It is crucial
that before they can even propose legislation that the threat here be
brought to the attention of the news media. If the currently proposed
FBI legislation were passed, a dictatorial government would have all
the tools it would need to tap all the phones in the country -- the
only thing restraining that behavior would be a system of warrants
that could disappear with a mere change in attitude. If Denning's more
serious and sinister idea were proposed for future enactment as
legislation (this has not yet been proposed), it would become
impossible for individuals to take any action to protect their own
communications privacy from a dictatorial regime, even ignoring the
question of abuses that could occur right now. I'm convinced that the
only thing that prevented the FBI bill from passing this year was the
fact that media attention was brought to bear. Its important that this
new proposal be exposed to similar sunshine. Far be it for me to
suggest restraint of free speech, but I would like to see people
think of making such suggestions as having the social acceptability of
calling a black person "nigger".
Here, for reference, is a copy of an article Dr. Denning just posted
to sci.crypt on usenet.
I encourage people, rather than discussing this matter on libernet or
extropians, to discuss this on sci.crypt where the topic is just
Article 6275 of sci.crypt:
From: [email protected]
Subject: Re: A Trial Balloon on Registered Keys
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 27 Oct 92 14:37:37 -0500
Organization: Georgetown University
The posting about the proposal I made at the NCSC for key registration
is essentially correct. Let me add to it the following:
1. The government is not taking any action to curb crypto and is
unlikely to take any such action in the near future. No proposal has
been made and no government agency that I am aware of has plans to
make such a proposal. The closest we've had to a proposal was a "Sense
of Congress" resolution in Senate Bill 266 over a year ago. This
would not have mandated anything, but said it was the sense of
Congress that service providers should provide accesss to the
plaintext of encrypted communications under a court order. It got a lot of
opposition and was withdrawn. Thus, don't panic folks -- this was just me
making a suggestion. I didn't realize I had that much clout to cause
such a stir and call to arms! I expect that the next step will be government
sponsored discussions about crypto policy, probably sponsored by NIST,
at the recommendation of the Computer System Security Advisory Board
headed by Willis Ware. That will provide a forum to work through these
2. The reason I made the proposal is because I am concerned that we
may be facing a major crisis in law enforcement. I expect many of
you will say "that's wonderful" but I don't see it that way.
Electronic surveillance has been an essential tool in preventing
serious crimes such as terrorist attacks and destabilizing organized crime.
The economic benefits alone are estimated to be in the billions. This
issue is not about snooping on innocent citizens but about doing what
we can do prevent major crimes that could seriously disrupt other
liberties. The problem is likely to get even worse if criminals know
they use the telecommunications systems without any chance of getting
3. My proposal was to register your private key with a trustee,
different from the government. The key would be encrypted under some
other public key so the trustee couldn't decrypt it. I have suggested
it be the key of the DOJ, but it could be another independent trustee.
I believe this would provide acceptably good protection since someone
would need to get a court order and then the cooperation of 3 agencies
to get at your communications: the telecommunications provider (to get
the bit stream), the first trustee (to get the encrypted key), and
the second to decrypt it. Experience with the telecom providers has
been that they are very fussy about court orders -- you have to get
the semicolons right!
You can get even more security by using Silvio Micali's "fair
public-key cryptosystem" approach. Called "fair" because it is
designed to strike a balance between the needs of the Government and
those of the citizens. With his approach, you would break your key
up into 5 parts and give it to different trustees. All 5 parts
are needed to reassemble it, but it is possible to veryify the parts
individually and as a whole without putting them together --
ingenious! He presented this at CRYPTO '92.
4. Someone suggested that law enforcement routinely taps without
court order. This is an ungrounded claim for which I have never
seen any evidence. Regardless, their ability to do this is
disappearing with the new digital based technologies. They need the
help of the service providers, who in turn ask for court orders.
Court orders are not all that easy to get as law enforcers have to
document why other approaches have failed etc.
5. Many people have noted that you could not enforce key
registration. They may be right, but I am not throwing in the towel
yet. Let's take phones, which is what law enforcers are most
interested in. Products are emerging that you can attach to your
phone and that will do DES encryption. Criminals and everyone
else are most likely to use commercial products -- easiest to
get and cheapest. The products could be designed so key registration
would essentially be part of the sales process.
There can be social benefit to government regulation even when
regulation is not 100% successful. None of our laws prevent the
acts they outlaw. But this does not mean we should get rid of
6. Some people have said we should not give up our privacy to the
government. But the constitution does not give us absolute privacy.
We are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, but not
reasonable ones in response to "probable cause" of crime. In all
areas of our lives, the government can invade our privacy if they
have good reason to believe we are engaged in major criminal activity.
They can break into our homes, our safes, and so on. Do we really
want a society where electronic communications cannot ever be broken
when there is good reason to believe some major threat against society
is being planned?
Thank you for your comments and for encouraging those on the other
news groups to move over to sci.crypt. I'll try to keep up with
this newsgroup and respond to other comments if appropriate, but
I honestly can't track them all.
[email protected] (posting from guvax)