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Study: Cryptography key
to curbing cyber-snoops

May 31, 1996
Web posted at: 7:40 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Dick Wilson


ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN)-- Cryptography, the art and science of secret writing, was once the sole province of governments and the military. That was until millions of people began using personal computers, and all privacy was lost.

Now, a study released Thursday by the National Research council in Washington says the U.S. government should promote wider use of cryptography to curb theft of computer data, to protect wireless communication and other electronic information.


"The wider use of cryptography will support personal privacy, U.S. business, law enforcement and national security interests," said Kenneth Dam, a law professor at the University of Chicago. "Even though information gathering for law enforcement and national security will become more difficult."

In its study, the committee said U.S. policy should take account of national concerns but should be driven more by market forces than by law.


The Clinton administration and its predecessors have discouraged the expansion of cryptography, especially internationally, fearing it could aid criminals and terrorists.

But now, compromise legislation is moving forward on Capitol Hill in an attempt to break the deadlock between the administration and the computer industry and privacy advocates.

The administration wants to set up government-approved repositories that keep copies of mathematical keys for decoding encrypted information so officials can lift the veil on secret communications if granted a court order to do so.

But industry executives and privacy advocates strongly oppose such supervised encryption, and they are complaining loudly on the Internet.

One Web site called for civil disobedience by encouraging people to illegally send an encryption program overseas.

Gold key

Another site amounted to a lobbying effort. Calling for a "gold key campaign," it asked Internet publishers to use a symbol to remind computer users of the encryption debate.

"We have numbers of foreign competitors which would love to be able to step into the breach and supply our customers with products with strong encryption," said Samuel Fuller of Digital Equipment Corp.

And until the government and the computer industry reach a compromise, wireless communication is open to computerized snooping.


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