"Reason" mag.article on PK Crypto
trestrab at GVSU.EDU
Mon Oct 4 19:29:07 PDT 1993
The Nov 93 "Reason" magazine has a five page article on Public Key
Crypto written by Lee Dembart, who "is a longtime journalist,
science writer, and editorial writer at The New York Times and the LA
Times who has written extensively about computers, mathematics,
and public policy. He recently graduated from Stanford Law School."
I don't have time to type the whole article in and don't have a
scanner, so I'll quote a few paragraphs to give you a taste of his
presentation, which I found very good.
Given the multiplicitity of current and potentail uses
for cryptography, it's not surprising that the Clinton
administration provoked a storm of protest last spring
when it proposed a standard set of computer codes for
telephone calls and computer data. The plan envisions
two chips, one called Clipper, for encoding digital
telephone signals, and another called Capstone, for digital
information from computers. The government would hold
the keys to all electronic encryption, and it would split
them between tow agencies chosen by the attorney general.
Law-enforcement officials would need a search warrant to
get access to the codes. Eric Hughes, a computer security
expert in Berkeley, CA, observes: "The government is
saying, ' If you want to lock something up, you have to
[give us] the key.'"
An editorial in "Communications Week" observed: "This
isn't the first time that the government has proposed an
authoritarian scheme that goes after a few people's
crimes while stomping on the majority's civil liberties."
It is technically illegal to take out of the US versions of
some very popular computer programs - including the Norton
Utilities, for example. But these efforts have proved
largely ineffectual. You can buy a disk containing a good
public-key cryptosystem in software stores in Moscow.
Here again, the problem is that it is all but impossible
to restrict the flow of knowledge. In the era of the
Internet, barring people from physically taking information
out of the country is no bar at all. Digitized data moves
freely by satellite. And when it doesn't, it is virtually
impossible to prevent anyone from walking into a software
store in the US, buying encrypted software on a floppy disk,
and then putting it into a suitcase.
Rumors abound that the NSA has built a trap door into the
Clipper chip that would enable it to read any messages, with
or without a court order. It's hard to say whether this is
a legitimate concern. But it's a second example of the
government saying, "Trust us." Many people would rather
use public-key cryptography, which does not require them to
trust anybody or to decide whether the government is
Ultimately, it's unlikely the government can prevent the
spread of information and knowledge, regardless of what it
decides to do. Washington can force government contractors
to sue the CLipper chip and not use any other encryption
scheme. But as a practical matter, it cannot prevent
individuals from using whatever encryption scheme they want.
For those who want the strongest encryption possible, RSA
public-key cryptography is the system of choice. For
better or worse, the genie is out of the bottle.
Please excuse the typos, I was in a hurry.
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