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The Road to Crypto Anarchy

At 4:51 PM -0700 9/26/96, Declan McCullagh wrote:
>Anonymity and nonescrowed crypto are the linchpins of AP and its more
>general case, Maysian crypto anarchy. The withering of the nation-state.
>Whatever you want to call it.
>To prevent it, governments will ban both. A criminal law, passed in the
>wake of say a bombing this fall in Washington, DC, banning nonescrowed
>crypto. (Freeh will assert he has evidence the terrorists used PGPhone.)
>And another law banning online anonymity.
>What then, Mr. Bell?
Though I'm not Bell, I have some interest in this question.

I believe, and have argued this for at least several years, that we are in
a "race to the fork in the road." The fork in the road being essentially
the point of no return, beyond which things are either pulled strongly to
one end or the other.

The two ends being:

* a surveillance state, with restrictions on cryptography, the spending of
money, the holding of various items (besides just traditional things like
guns and drugs), restrictions on the dissemination of information, and of
course controls on lots of other things.

(For those who think this scenario is ipso facto unconstitutional, look at
the many moves already in this direction. Between Supreme Court decisions
allowing searches and seizures without warrants (e.g., on buses, planes,
etc.), restrictions on discussion of crypto in public places (ITARs), there
are a raft of "Presidential Decision Directives" and "National Security
Decision Directives" which grant the Executive wide powers to seize control
of telecommunications systems, computer networks, emergency systems, etc.
While this is fodder for conspiracy theory supporters, it concerns many
civil liberties advocates as well.)

* a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist state, with people using a variety of
secure and private channels to interact, exchange information, buy and sell
goods and services, and communicate transnationally. The "anarchy" being
the same kind of anarchy seen in so many areas of life: reading choices,
eating choices (except for drug laws), this list, and so on.

(For those who think this scenario is hopelessy rosy, pointing out that
people "can't eat cyberspace," this is surely so. But a large fraction of
"interesting" interactions are already done on the Net, or via phones, or
other such mechanisms. And even if many people are not in cyberspace at
all, if enough of us _are_ and are _secure_, I'll settle for that. The rest
can come later.)

The reason I believe there's a point of no return is this: once, for
example, enough strong, encrypted, black channels are available, it will
essentially be too late to crack down and stop them. Add to the mix
steganographic channels, lots of bandwidth over several mechanism, and it's
too late.

(Take the Digital Telephony Act. It mainly covers _telephones_ (though many
of us have speculated that computer networks could be covered, especially
if Internet telephony catches on in a big way). There is no way the tens of
thousands of individual Linux boxes and whatnot can be made to comply with
DT "wiretappability." The horse is out of the barn on this one, to use yet
another related metaphor.)

Declan is right that each major "incident"--Oklahoma City, TWA 800,
etc.--jumps us forward toward a totalitarian surveillance state. However,
each new anonymous remailer, each new Web site, each new T1 or whatever
link, etc., moves us forward in the direction of crypto anarchy.

On the issue of terrorists, child molestors, and other Horsemen using PGP,
PGPhone, etc., how else could it be? After all, use of PGP is being
promoted by folks like us, and many others, and the molestors, Mafiosos,
money launderers, Palestinian Neo-Intifada (the war that just started this
week) sympathizers, nuclear material smugglers, and other assorted
miscreants (or heroes, depending on one's outlook) are surely thinking
about securing their communications.

So what? After all, as we've been pointing out for years, criminals and
conspirators also have locks on their doors, use curtains on their windows,
keep their voices down when speaking amongst themselves in public, rent
hotel rooms to plot crimes, and generally use various methods to better
ensure privacy and secrecy. And yet the Constitution is pretty clear that
we don't insist windows be uncurtained, conversations be "escrowed," and
locks have keys "escrowed." And so on, with various of the rights
enumerated in the Bill of Rights covering these situations (4th, 1st, etc.).

The inevitable use of strong crypto by some criminal, perhaps even a
heinous one, will be used as an argument to restrict crypto. We have to be

Meanwhile, deploy as much crypto stuff as possible.

(When I spoke to Stewart Baker, former chief counsel at the NSA, at the CFP
in early '95, we both knew the race was on. On opposite sides, of course.)

Make no mistake about it,  the faster and more ubiquitously we can deploy
as much strong crypto as possible (e.g., the Gilmore SWAN thing, more
remailers, offshore havens, etc.), the greater the likelihood we'll win.
(And winning will have some rather interesting  consequences for society.)

I think there's currently about an 80% chance we'll win, with maybe a 30%
chance that we've already won, that we've already reached the point of no
return and are on the path to crypto anarchy.

--Tim May


We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1,257,787-1 | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."