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Chutzpah! FBI Calls Privacy Extremists Elitist
FBI Calls Privacy Extremists Elitist
(09/25/97; 4:30 p.m. EDT)
By David Braun, TechWire
MONTREAL -- Extremist positions on electronic encryption are not only
threatening to normal law enforcement, but they are also elitist and
nondemocratic, said Alan McDonald, a senior counsel member with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the International Conference on
Privacy in Montreal on Thursday.
Addressing a workshop on how far society should go in trading off
privacy for effective law enforcement, McDonald said privacy activists
had fought any balance in proposed encryption legislation.
"Such absolute positions threaten not only electronic searches but
also conventional searches for data that has been encrypted," McDonald
Absolute positions on privacy were "pernicious on several levels,"
The absolute positions "handcuffed" law enforcement while also raising
rights for citizens to levels that were unreasonable and that would
have been foreign to the nation's founding fathers. Extreme privacy
positions were ultimately elitist and nondemocratic in that they
presumed the views of a knowing privacy cognoscenti should pre-empt
the views of the nation's elected officials and the Supreme Court,
McDonald's statements came a day after a key committee of the
U.S. House of Representatives rejected an FBI-supported proposal that
would have compelled the makers of encryption products to include
features that would enable law enforcement agencies to gain immediate
and, if necessary, covert access to unscramble any coded data.
Extremists presumed that the citizens could not trust the elected
government and the Supreme Court to make decisions or to correct
mistakes if any are made, McDonald said.
"Based on a theory of potential government abuse, important tools
commonly used are to be restricted or embargoed," McDonald said.
McDonald said efforts in the United States to enhance effective law
enforcement search and seizure capabilities had proceeded without
harming legitimate privacy concerns.
In the area of electronic surveillance, McDonald said, privacy
enhancements had frequently received treatment "superior to that
required under our Constitution."
With minor exceptions, neither the laws nor the cases decided
regarding effective law enforcement or privacy had come about with the
view that either were absolute in their nature, McDonald said. Law
enforcement measures had been tempered by considerations of personal
privacy, and privacy laws had been balanced with effective law
Notwithstanding the substantial threats posed by national and
international organized crime, drug cartels, and terrorists, the
United States had remained true to its Constitutional moorings, and
its commitment to a system of ordered liberties, McDonald said.
"When people don't know much about electronic surveillance, they are
fearful of it. But when they know Congress passed laws and the Supreme
Court reviewed them and that there are numerous constraints and
procedures, then it makes sense to them. It seems rational and
balanced," McDonald said.
David HM Spector [email protected]
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"New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled,
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--H. G. Wells