The ACLU group


  • Peter Choi
  • Katherine Francis
  • Daniel Kogan
  • Ronak Parikh
  • Mitch Shenassa

    What to prepare for You will write a memo (at most 3 pages) supporting the testimony of an important ACLU official before a committee of the U.S.~Congress. Your memo will outline an attack of the controls on crytptography that exist and of those that are proposed. The ACLU web page should be your primary source. Various links which can be followed from it (see, e.g., below). You may further choose to emphasize some of the items below but don't be limited by them.

    In your oral rebuttal Be prepared to deal with arguments about criminals and terrorists, about economic pressures, and arguments about dealing with countries whose traditional ``freedoms'' relative to wiretapping, etc., are perhaps less comprehensive than our own. How would you deal with the question of whether suspected pornographers should be required to decrypt their files after satisfactory court action?

    The written report of the ACLU group follows.

    As members of the ACLU, our "sole purpose is to defend and enhance the principles of freedom and liberty embodied in the United States Constitution". Defending the First Amendment right to free speech is of particular importance to us. With the freedom of speech in the United States as our primary concern, we feel that any restrictions on cryptography are unconstitutional, as it violates this First Amendment right. We believe that encryption is simply another form of speech and therefore should not be subject to government control. The ACLU, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and other groups, are a part of a larger organization, the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC). Part of GILC's agenda is to prevent any restrictions or governmental controls on encryption schemes and devices. We feel that Americans have the right to use encryption technology in order to ensure the privacy of their private communications, which include cell phone communications, e-mail messages, ATM transactions, etc. The use of encryption technology is also advantageous to businesses and individuals alike who wish to protect sensitive information being transmitted over the Internet.

    There can be no exceptions made to the First Amendment of the Constitution. In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled "regulations which permit the government to discriminate on the basis of content of a message cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment." Bans on encryption are doing just that. By placing restrictions on things because they are encrypted, the government is basing it on its content. In addition, in published findings by the GILC, few other countries have placed the same kind of restriction on encryption technology. The more controls that are placed on encryption, the more insecure things like the Internet, medical records, cellular phone conversations, fax messages, and ATM transactions become. All of these insecurities could be resolved by allowing strong encryption technology to prevent the unauthorized use and abuse of such things.

    Those against such policies as proposed by the ACLU would most likely argue the importance of national security over the rights of the individual. However, in Katz v. United States, "the Court declared that warrantless wiretapping was unconstitutionalthe right to privacy included not only tangible property but also `an individual's communications, personality, politics, and thoughts.'" Moreover, the export ban that is currently in effect has discouraged US software companies from employing stronger encryption technology, even in the domestic market, which leaves the American people vulnerable to violations of privacy by computer hackers, the government, employers, the police, and various other groups. In essence, by advocating the issue of national security over that of the right to privacy and free speech, the government is neglecting the inherent right of its people that served as the foundation for this country from the very beginning. As fellow ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim stated, "If President Clinton and federal law enforcement authorities have their way, new technology will make possible a much more intrusive and omniscient level of surveillance than has ever been possible before."

    In closing, the aims of the ACLU are to protect the rights of United States citizens by advocating for the unfettered development, production and use of the strongest possible encryption technology. With current export bans and intrusive compromises of privacy by the government, the rights of countless citizens are being violated. Free speech has been a characteristic of the United States since its formation in the 18th century. Hopefully, with the use of strong encryptions, it will remain that way.

    Maintained by and last modified 10/20/99.