Encryption: The key to freedom

By Mike Trotzke

I've gotten hooked on this new toy for my computer called PointCast. In place of your screen saver PointCast gives you a customizable news wire on you screen. It downloads current news headlines every hour to keep you up to date. I stepped away from my computer for a few minutes (imagine that) and out of the corner of my eye I see a headline: Clinton Likes Internet, And Public Likes Clinton. All I could think about was how just last week Clinton re-afirmed his anti-internet stance on government regulation of encryption. This story reacked of a journalist taking the easy way out by reiterating a propaganda filled White House press release. For some reason I never saw a headline about Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) reintroduction of the Pro-CODE bill.

Bureaucracy tends to fall behind the curve of technology, and the Clinton administrations position on encryption is no exception. Earlier this week, Sen. Burns announced his plans to re-introduce the "Promotion of Commerce Online in the Digital Era"(Pro-CODE) bill. A bill that despite bi-partisan support, the Clinton administration staunchly opposed during it's initial introduction in the 104th congress. The Pro-CODE bill promotes access of strong and easy to use privacy and security technologies and relaxes government controls on encryption technologies. The Pro-CODE bill's necessity was demonstrated a couple of weeks ago when a student cracked the current maximum allowed encryption strength (40 bit encryption) in about 3 hours.

Of course the Clinton administration has come up with a government solution to our problems called the Clipper Chip (now called the Clipper II). The plan involves a key escrow system that requires 2 government agencies have master keys to Americans private electronic data. The justification for the new levels of bureaucracy and policing? To prevent terrorists from transferring information. Of course this argument makes little sense considering that if a terrorist or drug group wanted to use encryption they would certainly use illegal encryption strength. It not that 40 bit is as high as technology can take us. It's just that 40 bit is all that is legal to export from the US. By contrast 128 bit is the standard in many countries like South Africa. The current regulations really only harm law abiding citizens and businesses.

This is yet another example of government intruding into the lives of individuals. Burn's motives for Pro-CODE are 2 fold: protecting the rights of individuals, and allowing our industries to effectively compete in a global market. Clinton's motivations for opposing Pro-CODE, are hard to understand. Of course this wouldn't be the first time Clinton has confused me.

I'm sure it won't be the last either.

Mike Trotzke

Sean Frick

Eric Seymour