.. Encryption is a means of encoding data so that only someone with the proper “key” can decode it. “Why do you need PGP (encryption)? It’s personal. It’s private. And it’s no one’s business but yours.
You may be planning a political campaign, discussing our taxes, or having an illicit affair. Or you may be doing something that you feel shouldn’t be illegal, but is. Whatever it is, you don’t want your private electronic mail (E-mail) or confidential documents read by anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with asserting your privacy. Privacy is as apple-pie as the Constitution.
Perhaps you think your E-mail is legitimate enough that encryption is unwarranted. If you really are a law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide, then why don’t you always send your paper mail on postcards? Why not submit to drug testing on demand? Why require a warrant for police searches of your house? Are you trying to hide something? You must be a subversive or a drug dealer if you hide your mail inside envelopes. Or maybe a paranoid nut. Do law-abiding citizens have any need to encrypt their E-mail? What if everyone believed that law-abiding citizens should use postcards for their mail? If some brave soul tried to assert his privacy by using an envelope for his mail, it would draw suspicion. Perhaps the authorities would open his mail to see what he’s hiding. Fortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world, because everyone protects most of their mail with envelopes.
So no one draws suspicion by asserting their privacy with an envelope. There’s safety in numbers. Analogously, it would be nice if everyone routinely used encryption for all their E-mail, innocent or not, so that no one drew suspicion by asserting their E-mail privacy with encryption. Think of it as a form of solidarity (Zimmerman).” Until the development of the Internet, the U.S. government controlled most new encryption techniques.
With the development of faster home computers and a worldwide web, they no longer hold control over encryption. New algorithms have been discovered that are reportedly uncrackable even by the FBI and the NSA. This is a major concern to the government because they want to maintain the ability to conduct wiretaps, and other forms of electronic surveillance into the digital age. To stop the spread of data encryption software, the U.S. government has imposed very strict laws on its exportation. One very well known example of this is the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) scandal.
PGP was written by Phil Zimmerman, and is based on “public key” encryption. This system uses complex algorithms to produce two codes, one for encoding and one for decoding. To send an encoded message to someone, a copy of that person’s “public” key is needed. The sender uses this public key to encrypt the data, and the recipient uses their “private” key to decode the message. As Zimmerman was finishing his program, he heard about a proposed Senate bill to ban cryptography.
This prompted him to release his program for free, hoping that it would become so popular that its use could not be stopped. One of the original users of PGP posted it to an Internet site, where anyone from any country could download it, causing a federal investigator to begin investigating Phil for violation of this new law. As with any new technology, this program has allegedly been used for illegal purposes, and the FBI and NSA are believed to be unable to crack this code. When told about the illegal uses of him programs, Zimmerman replies: “If I had invented an automobile, and was told that criminals used it to rob banks, I would feel bad, too. But most people agree the benefits to society that come from automobiles — taking the kids to school, grocery shopping and such — outweigh their drawbacks.” (Levy 56).
Currently, PGP can be downloaded from MIT. They have a very complicated system that changes the location on the software to be sure that they are protected. All that needs to be done is click “YES” to four questions dealing with exportation and use of the program, and it is there for the taking. This seems to be a lot of trouble to protect a program from spreading that is already world wide. The government wants to protect their ability to legally wiretap, but what good does it do them to stop encryption in foreign countries? They cannot legally wiretap someone in another country, and they sure cannot ban encryption in the U.S.
The government has not been totally blind to the need for encryption. For nearly two decades, a government sponsored algorithm, Data Encryption Standard (DES), has been used primarily by banks. The government always maintained the ability to decipher this code with their powerful supercomputers. Now that new forms of encryption have been devised that the government can’t decipher, they are proposing a new standard to replace DES. This new standard is called Clipper, and is based on the “public key” algorithms.
Instead of software, Clipper is a microchip that can be incorporated into just about anything (Television, Telephones, etc.). This algorithm uses a much longer key that is 16 million times more powerful than DES. It is estimated that today’s fastest computers would take 400 billion years to break this code using every possible key. (Lehrer 378). “The catch: At the time of manufacture, each Clipper chip will be loaded with its own unique key, and the Government gets to keep a copy, placed in escrow.
Not to worry, though the Government promises that they will use these keys to read your traffic only when duly authorized by law. Of course, to make Clipper completely effective, the next logical step would be to outlaw other forms of cryptography (Zimmerman).” “If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy. Intelligence agencies have access to good cryptographic technology. So do the big arms and drug traffickers. So do defense contractors, oil companies, and other corporate giants.
But ordinary people and grassroots political organizations mostly have not had access to affordable “military grade” public-key cryptographic technology. Until now. PGP empowers people to take their privacy into their own hands. There’s a growing social need for it. That’s why I wrote it (Zimmerman).” The most important benefits of encryption have been conveniently overlooked by the government. If everyone used encryption, there would be absolutely no way that an innocent bystander could happen upon something they choose not to see.
Only the intended receiver of the data could decrypt it (using public key cryptography, not even the sender can decrypt it) and view its contents. Each coded message also has an encrypted signature verifying the sender’s identity. The sender’s secret key can be used to encrypt an enclosed signature message, thereby “signing” it. This creates a digital signature of a message, which the recipient (or anyone else) can check by using the sender’s public key to decrypt it. This proves that the sender was the true originator of the message, and that the message has not been subsequently altered by anyone else, because the sender alone possesses the secret key that made that signature.
“Forgery of a signed message is infeasible, and the sender cannot later disavow his signature(Zimmerman).” Gone would be the hate mail that causes many problems, and gone would be the ability to forge a document with someone else’s address. The government, if it did not have alterior motives, should mandate encryption, not outlaw it. As the Internet continues to grow throughout the world, more governments may try to impose their views onto the rest of the world through regulations and censorship. It will be a sad day when the world must adjust its views to conform to that of the most prudish regulatory government. If too many regulations are inacted, then the Internet as a tool will become nearly useless, and the Internet as a mass communication device and a place for freedom of mind and thoughts, will become non existent.
The users, servers, and parents of the world must regulate themselves, so as not to force government regulations that may stifle the best communication instrument in history. If encryption catches on and becomes as widespread as Zimmerman predicts it will, then there will no longer be a need for the government to meddle in the Internet, and the biggest problem will work itself out. The government should rethink its approach to the censorship and encryption issues, allowing the Internet to continue to grow and mature. Works Cited Emler-Dewitt, Philip. “Censoring Cyberspace: Carnegie Mellon’s Attempt to Ban Sex from it’s Campus Computer Network Sends A Chill Along the Info Highway.” Time 21 Nov.
1994; 102-105. Lehrer, Dan. “The Secret Sharers: Clipper Chips and Cypherpunks.” The Nation 10 Oct. 1994; 376-379. “Let the Internet Backlash Begin.” Advertising Age 7 Nov. 1994; 24.
Levy, Steven. “The Encryption Wars: is Privacy Good or Bad?” Newsweek 24 Apr. 1995; 55-57. Miller, Michael. “Cybersex Shock.” PC Magazine 10 Oct. 1995; 75-76.
Wilson, David. “The Internet goes Crackers.” Education Digest May 1995; 33-36. Zimmerman, Phil. (1995). Pretty Good Privacy v2.62, [Online].
Available Ftp: net-dist.mit.edu Directory: pub/pgp/dist File: Pgp262dc.zip.