Spreading the power of encryption to the masses

Computerworld |  Development

A: In this country, I think that there is more of a problem from business than government. But overall, I think it depends on your threat model. Governments carry guns and can put you in prison, they have the monopoly on violence. In that sense, governments are a worse problem than business. From the terms of invading your privacy and damaging your life, the private sector can do more damage than the government. Business will gather information on you and will use that information to hurt you by denying you health insurance, messing up your credit. The health insurance problem is particularly bad, if you get sick that information goes into a medical information bureau. If anyone changes their job, or has their own health insurance coverage, business will look for any opportunity to exploit that and deny you insurance.

Q: We're entering an era whhen the destructive power that individuals can possess can sometimes rival the power of the state, both in terms of the information that they can acquire and the fire power they can deliver with biological weapons and bombs. What do you say to government organizations that are charged with keeping the peace in an increasingly hostile world when they say they need to be able to backdoor your encryption programs?

A: That was the central focus of the debate throughout the 1990s, and that is a good question. I worry about criminals using cryptography. We have to have a government that can certainly catch criminals and detect criminals. Cryptography can help criminals hide, but signal intelligence is not the only tool law enforcement can use. There's human intelligence, traffic analysis and many other areas that are immune to cryptography. These crimes leave footprints in the real world. But as much as I hate to see criminals perpetrate horrible crimes, you need to remember that governments have killed more people than criminals have. Take a single government, such as Stalin. Stalin killed more people than all the criminals of the 20th century combined. A single government can do more damage than all the criminals put together, and when you add to that what Hitler did, and Suharto and Pol Pot . . . Political opposition groups have used Pretty Good Privacy to bring about their efforts to change governments. It was used in Kosovo, and used by the resistance in Burma and the government in exile of Tibet, it is also used by the White House and the Vatican and every single human rights organization around the world.

Q: What about wartime use? Breaking Nazi and Japanese codes is often seen as a key to the Allied victory in World War II. Do you ever worry that you will give some other government an unfair advantage in a future war?

A: The military use of cryptography has changed since World War II. The U.S. never broke the encryption algorithms of the Soviet Union for at least the past 30 years and that goes for other countries, as well.

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