The next issue over which a head-on collision of the civil rights protection
organizations in the USA with the federal government is bound to take place,
after the question on censorship (in the name of pornography on the nets) will
be cryptography. The President of the United States has already been clearing
the ground by having expressed, a couple of days ago, "his fear" that
the Internet could be used as a means of communication by terrorists internationally
and that "governments have to do something about it."
Overlooking the one-sided statement made by president Clinton (why does it
just have to be the Internet? Aren't both conventional and mobile phones, faxes
as well as the rest means of telecommunication used by terrorists?) we have
to focus on the political motive lying behind it. The President of the United
States is aware of the fact that the bill under legislation, having to do with
the restriction if not ban, under certain circumstances, of cryptography, will
be sternly opposed by the Americans as a whole. Thus, he has started "laying
the scene" by using terrorism as a scarecrow and demanding the support
of nations all over the world, to maintain the (illegal) prerogatives a state
mechanism is in possession of: to be able to have its citizens under surveillance
with neither restrictions and no problems whatsoever.
This issue has been cause for quite a fit of headache to the United States
government (where more powerful software packages that send messages in cipher
are either sold or distributed). The transmission of an encoded message cannot
be banned since such an act would be contrary to the principle of the right
to freedom of expression. One has the right to equally utter: "Democracy and
freedom" as well as "modeerf dna ycarcomed." The second statement
(being the first one reversed) is in reality an encoded message the ciphering
done in a simple way. No one has the right to prevent its transmission.
Since they were not able to ban cryptography, the United States governments focused their efforts in creating disincentives drawn upon information technology companies, to deter them from producing ciphering software. They issued a law, which includes ciphering software in advanced technology weapons, the export of which requires special export license authorized by the Department of State. The law in question has worked so far and companies (at least the large ones) have not worked on cryptography. A logical reaction, if one considers the fact that these companies are more interested in selling their products to the world as a whole and not just in the American market.
A historical rule of court though, has upset the United States government
project. A professor of Mathematics, Daniel Bernstein, brought a lawsuit against
the State Department for violating his right to free expression, since the
code allotted to each software package (hence the ciphering one) is a form
of expression. In 1991, he created an encoding algorithm, which he named "the
Snuffle." He described that code in an article he released. This article
can be found in all American libraries and consequently anyone, be it either
an American or a foreigner, is allowed to photocopy and take it away with them.
Two years after the release of his article, Daniel Bernstein asked authorization
by the proper State Department branch to export his article!!!
According to law, Bernstein could not even take a copy of his article with him abroad. The State Department refused to permit authorization! As it was natural the case was brought to court, aided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization supporting civil rights in cyberspace.
Judge Marylin Patel's decree has been of historical importance: "The
Court of Law sitting on the case has failed to observe a noticeable difference
between a computer programming language and the German or the French languages…Like
music or an equation of mathematics, the language of computers is precisely
what the word connotes: a language, and it bears information either to a computer
or to those who know how to read it…Therefore, even if the Snuffle can
be easily utilized in the ciphering of messages, it cannot but be considered
a form of expression…which is protected by the first amendment of the
American constitution (author's note: The Congress must not issue a law…restricting
the freedom of expression or of press.)"
Once again, this case points out to the absurdity characterizing all bureaucrats’ reactions
(in governments all over the world) and their discomfiture in connection with
new technologies. How could they stop cryptography? Should they abolish research?
It's mathematics. They cannot possibly do that. Should they ban the scientists
who indulge in the field from releasing the deductions they have reached? It
is insane. They have already banned their export. It's a boner. Knowledge
cannot be restricted within geographical boundaries. So, what can be done about
it? They have to realize that the era of bugs is never to return. Technology
has offered private individuals with weapons to protect themselves effectively
* Richard White is a unique case. He himself is able to leave the United States, but his arm…is not. He has recently tattooed an RSA powerful ciphering algorithm on his arm which, according to the US legislation, is not allowed to be exported. “For the time being,” he says, “no state authority has tried to repossess my hand…” What is left to see, is the extend to which state irrationality may reach.
Published in the New Millennium periodical slip, included in August 10th
By Pashos Mandravelis.
email to P. Mandravelis