[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
USA Today on encryption; FBI's Louis Freeh responds
Subject: USA Today/Freeh
Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 09:08:05 -0400
From: Dave Banisar <[email protected]>
September 26, 1997
Computer privacy at risk if FBI gets the codes
Thinking about protecting your computer files with high-quality
Well, act fast. The FBI is out to stop you.
Not only will you get less security if the agency gets its way,
but you'll pay more for software to protect your personal financial,
medical and other records.
Until now, restrictions on good encryption technology have covered only
exports. But the agency wants to outlaw the making, sale
and distribution here of all codes it can't break. It would require
any firm offering such programs to hand decoding keys over to
third parties so the FBI and other agencies could get hold of
them without your knowledge.
It's the electronic equivalent of demanding that Americans put
copies of all their records in some federal depository.
One House committee has passed the FBI plan. Another committee
failed this week to insert it in a bill aimed at lifting export
curbs. But more attempts are sure.
The FBI says encryption controls are for your security. Otherwise, drug
lords and terrorists can hide behind strong encryption to
evade the law. In fact, lack of powerful encryption programs is
leaving the vast majority of Americans far less secure.
That's because of the existing restriction on exports. U.S. software and
computer makers find it too costly to make one product for
here and another for export. So, they don't provide the best encryption
The Justice Department reports computer security breaches cost
U.S. business and consumers $ 7 billion a year. And domestic software and
computer makers are losing sales to foreign firms. Estimated
price tag by 2000: $ 60 billion a year, 240,000 jobs.
Domestic limits would only add costs. The Congressional Budget
Office estimates that buyers will pay $ 5 to $ 10 more for software,
up to $ 2 billion a year, to implement the FBI's system. And 11
of the world's top cryptographers in May warned that the FBI plan
creates targets for criminals by establishing centers where billions
of secrets are held.
And for what? Smart crooks easily can evade police efforts by
using unbreakable foreign encryption available over the Internet
or by removing incriminating evidence by pressing their computer's
The National Research Council, in an 18-month study for Congress,
suggested a better course for government to meet everyone's security
-- Provide law enforcement money to study surveillance alternatives.
-- Ease the curb on encryption exports.
-- Leave domestic encryption alone.
In plain, unencrypted text: Don't stop Americans from protecting
Let law keep weapons
Louis J. Freeh
In this time of electronic commerce, e-mail and private information
routinely stored in computers, the availability of powerful encryption is
essential. No one in law enforcement disputes that.
All of law enforcement is also in total agreement on one aspect
of encryption: The widespread use of uncrackable encryption will
devastate our ability to fight crime and prevent terrorism. It
will render two of our most important investigative techniques,
court-ordered electronic surveillance and search and seizure,
a nullity in many instances.
Without a balanced approach that accommodates commercial interests,
privacy and public safety concerns, criminals and terrorists will
be able to shield themselves from court orders used to obtain
critical evidence and prevent the worst crimes.
How important are the techniques? Law enforcement used electronic
surveillance to disrupt terrorists mixing bombs to blow up buildings
and assassinate political figures. A computer was used to store
evidence of a plot to blow up 11 U.S. airline flights. Police
use electronic surveillance to combat drugs, gang violence and
Indeed, state and local law enforcement authorities account for
50% of all the electronic surveillance court orders in the United
States. These are what will be lost if, despite valid court orders,
law enforcement is unable to decrypt that which criminals have
We are not asking that advances in encryption be abandoned or
that privacy rights be threatened. Nor are we asking for any increase in
law enforcement's authority to intercept people's conversations.
We only ask that the careful balance of the Fourth Amendment not
be inadvertently tipped in favor of criminals and terrorists in
the rush to satisfy the marketplace.
Many companies are urging Congress to let them determine the extent to
which public safety is protected and have expressed a desire
that government be more sympathetic to their commercial needs.
These potential life-and-death issues are too important to leave
solely to market forces that respond to important but unrelated
Good and sound public policy decisions must be made now by Congress. We
remain hopeful that, as legislation is crafted, it will not
ignore the pleas of law enforcement but instead will preserve
that careful balance that has been so meticulously maintained
for the past 200 years.
Louis J. Freeh is director of the FBI.
The Netly News Network