Technology as a ToolFor Good
People want to stand together in the face of adversity, but they also want a focus for their anger: if not someone, then something, to blame. In our technology-centered society, our tools can easily become convenient scapegoats.People want to stand together in the face of adversity, but they also want a focus for their anger: if not someone, then something, to blame. In our technology-centered society, our tools can easily become convenient scapegoats. When the open, international network, or the mathematics of strong encryption, are usedor even suspected of having been usedfor malicious purposes, the cry goes up that we must accept inconvenience or higher costs if it denies these facilities to those who would do us ill. Such costs, however, are real, while the resulting denial may hurt us more than it hurts our enemiesespecially if the only effect is to remove U.S. technology providers from a market while overseas competitors continue to sell. Our abortive experience with a restrictive U.S. crypto policy should not be quickly forgotten.
But Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) has resurrected the discredited notion of mandating "backdoor" access to encrypted communications. Major Internet service providers acknowledge FBI pressure to grant it access to users e-mail streams. Wireless communications and electronic payment systems find themselves in the cross hairs of the presidents sweeping Mobilization Against Terrorism Act. Past experience, sad to say, has shown that such initiatives can introduce unintended loopholes; they certainly involve the creation of new potential points of failure, both technical and institutional.