"Reason" mag.article on PK Crypto

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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