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IP: Data Encryption and the First Amendment: Pete duPont
Hey *I* want some of the 4096 bit encryption!
"My coun-try 'tis of thee, land of plu-to-cracy..."
Forbes/duPont 2000 ;-).
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Date: Fri, 23 Oct 1998 15:06:12 -0500
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Subject: IP: Data Encryption and the First Amendment: Pete duPont
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Source: Intellectual Capital
Data Encryption and the First Amendment
by Pete du Pont
October 22, 1998
The microprocessor and the Internet have created an
information revolution that is sweeping the globe.
This revolution is putting information once available
only to the media, political and intellectual elite into
the kitchens of ordinary people all across America
and opening previously locked cabinets in
government, industry and academe.
In short, the information revolution is empowering
people; it is giving them the tools and the information to make informed
choices for themselves. People can more easily exchange information
with one another -- buy, sell, discuss and decide among different
Already, e-mail exceeds regular mail usage by 10-to-1. Forrester
Research reports that $8 billion in goods and services were traded
over the Internet in 1997; by 2002, 21 million homes will be doing
online financial transactions worth $327 billion.
Essential to this commercial and personal communication is security.
We want to know that our information travels safely, without alteration
or eavesdropping, and that there is neither information theft nor identity
fraud. Which means that we must encrypt our data, so that only
intended parties can access it.
A glimpse into the future
In the U.S. banking system, for example, just two of the largest
fund-transfer systems transmit more than 300,000 electronic
fund-transfer messages worth $2 trillion every day. For obvious
security reasons, the Treasury Department already requires that all
electronic fund transfers be encrypted.
For those of us doing commerce at a somewhat smaller order, or
simply e-mail or information transfers, security is equally compelling.
One of the primary tasks of government is to protect the interests and
property of citizens, and in the information and e-commerce age,
enhancing the encryption of data to ensure its integrity should be one
of our government's priorities.
The good news is that encryption technology is galloping forward.
What was state of the art a few years ago is now rearview-mirror
encryption. Today, 56-bit encryption, with its 72 trillion combinations, is
giving way to 128-bit encryption. A Canadian company called Jaws
Technology has a new technology with 4,096-bit encryption. Cracking
it, its creators say, would require the equivalent of hitting 1,000
consecutive holes in one on the golf course from a 150-yard tee.
The bad news is that our government is demanding limits on
encryption technology and demanding access to all our encrypted
messages -- financial, commercial and ordinary e-mail.
The government's efforts began with the Clipper chip in 1993. The
Clipper chip would have required encryption users to submit their
encryption keys to a government database. It met with such a hail of
objections from technical and civil liberties groups that it never came to
pass, but the idea lives. The government currently is seeking both the
funding of a huge new encryption technology center and the means to
access any computer communication individuals might generate.
The case against limits on encryption
It seems to me that all of this is wrongheaded, that these demands for
government access to our computer transmissions are based on three
The first is that government can legislate encryption standards. The
truth is that encryption technology is moving too rapidly for statutory law
to keep up. For example, the National Bureau of Standards at one
point decided that the nation should have a single 56-bit key encryption
algorithm, an idea almost immediately obsolete as technology went to
128-bit algorithms and higher.
Second is the idea that regulation can prevent criminals from acquiring
unbreakable encryption. The analogy here is a familiar one: Does
anyone believe that gun-control laws -- gun registration or prohibition of
ownership, for example -- will keep guns out of the hands of criminals?
Similarly, encryption-strength ceilings, key escrow or "trapdoors" in
computer programs to allow government access will limit personal and
business usage by citizens and slow criminals not at all. The
international market is too accessible and its encryption offerings
equally or more sophisticated than U.S. technology.
Third is the idea that such regulations are cost-free to people using
computer technology. Key escrow and trapdoor systems would make
encryption for U.S. businesses and individuals less secure, more
vulnerable and more easily broken. Weakening the encryption security
of American users is a not a policy in the national interest. Forcing
information vulnerabilities upon individuals and businesses is
weakening national security, not strengthening it.
Most egregious in such encryption regulation is the massive invasion
of civil liberties it represents. The idea that various government
agencies, from the FBI to health-care agencies, the IRS and the
Justice Department, will have instant access to our Quicken programs,
e-mail and data transmissions is both dangerous and unsettling.
Liberty in the 21st century
It is not as if the government has a good record regarding individual
privacy. President Nixon's FBI tracked its enemies; the Clinton IRS
seems to be auditing unfriendly 501(c)(3)s; and some 800 FBI files
mysteriously found their way to Craig Livingstone's pizza-and-beer
No doubt there is a unique, it-will-never-happen-again exculpatory
reason for these violations of civil liberties. But if the government has
the power to intercept and use your data for its purposes, it will do so
sooner or later. That is a truth, and no amount of reassurance should
lead us to believe otherwise.
From Edmund Burke ("people never give up their liberties but under
some delusion") to Woodrow Wilson ("the history of liberty is a history
of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it"),
Americans have jealously guarded their freedom. The next frontier of
free speech will be the technology of encryption.
In the 18th century, the First Amendment was essential to guarding free
speech. Protecting the empowering technology of data transmission
will be just as essential to maintaining liberty in the 21st century.
Pete du Pont is the editor of IntellectualCapital.com. He is a former
governor and congressman from Delaware. His e-mail address is
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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'