Bill reopens encryption access debate

Renewing efforts to allow law enforcement agencies to access and read suspected criminals' encrypted electronic files, the Clinton administration has drafted a bill that would give those agencies access to the electronic 'keys' held by third parties. The Cyberspace Electronic Security Act, the draf

Renewing efforts to allow law enforcement agencies to access and read suspected criminals' encrypted electronic files, the Clinton administration has drafted a bill that would give those agencies access to the electronic "keys" held by third parties.

The Cyberspace Electronic Security Act, the drafting of which is being led by the Office and Management and Budget and the Justice Department, "updates law enforcement and privacy rules for our emerging world of widespread cryptography," according to an analysis accompanying the bill obtained by Federal Computer Week.

Encryption technology, according to the draft, is "an important tool for protecting the privacy of legitimate communications and stored data" but also has been used "to facilitate and hide unlawful activity by terrorists, drug traffickers, child pornographers and other criminals." The new bill seeks to uncover that activity by allowing law enforcement officials to obtain the keys needed to decrypt messages by applying for search warrants or court orders, much as they might do to uncover other evidence.

The administration is concerned about the use of encryption technology because advances in recent years have made it extremely difficult for law enforcement officials to crack a code once they have intercepted a message.

The draft bill is the Clinton administration's latest effort to push for legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to intercept messages or data that they think would be helpful in criminal investigations.

In 1993 the administration introduced the Clipper Chip, a hardware-based encryption device designed to protect private communications but that would provide a "backdoor" for law enforcement officials to decrypt necessary data. The Clipper effort died after privacy groups and industry warned that law enforcement agencies could abuse the power.

"All this is the Clipper Chip revisited in a different flavor but not as effective," said Michael Anderson, president of computer forensics firm New Technologies Inc.

The administration also has blocked the export of certain advanced encryption technology that would defeat efforts to conduct digital wiretaps as part of its fight against international drug cartels and terrorists. But the software industry continues to fight for the lifting of export restrictions.

In the latest bill, the administration proposes that law enforcement agents have access - under limited circumstances - to decryption keys held by recovery agents, which are third-party warehouses of decryption keys that "unlock" complex codes that mask the readable form of the data. The proposed law also allows the government to obtain search warrants to find decryption keys if they are not held by recovery agents.

The proposed bill would provide new protections for lawful users of encryption. Currently, according to a summary of the bill that is part of a proposed letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), there are few laws guiding how recovery agents treat the decryption keys they store. The bill would prohibit recovery agents from disclosing the keys or from using the keys to decrypt data except under certain circumstances, such as when a lawful heir of a deceased person wants decryption keys to the deceased's locked information.

The draft bill also prohibits recovery agents from selling or revealing in any way their customer lists to other parties.

The new protections, however, are not strong enough to avoid the erosion of privacy rights, said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. "It is not a pro-encryption proposal," he said. "The bottom line is: This is legislation that would increase law enforcement's ability to access encrypted data."

It also would serve to lay the legal groundwork for eventually outlawing encryption that does not have decryption keys available to law enforcement, Sobel said. "They could say, 'We have established legal procedures in place, they have been used in several cases. Now our problem is not everybody is using encryption that provides us with...access,' " he said.

Barbara Simons, president of the California-based Association for Computing Machinery, said the proposed bill bodes poorly for citizens' privacy. "Our lives are moving more and more online," she said. "There's always the risk that some future government or administration might compromise the rights and freedoms we enjoy today and take advantage of this technology."

The proposed bill was not a surprise, she said, because FBI Director Louis Freeh "has been pushing to have access keys for a long time."

Fred Smith, an attorney in Santa Fe, N.M., who works as a special prosecutor in computer cases, said he does not believe the administration's motives are nefarious.

"I really believe that there's a serious and good faith concern about what we're going to do if encryption takes off the way it appears to be taking off at the moment," he said.

A spokesman for DOJ described the proposal as "pending" and declined to comment on it.

One Capitol Hill staffer had some concerns. "I think they are really trying to hobble how people use encryption," said Ellen Stroud, spokeswoman for Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), sponsor of the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act, which would relax controls on the export of encryption and prohibit the government from requiring a backdoor into people's e-mail and computer files.

Stroud said law enforcement officials examining electronic files as they pursue criminals in cyberspace could accidentally modify or destroy a company's legitimate files. "[The proposal] doesn't provide the needed protection for companies using encryption," she said. "You're putting yourself at greater liability [if you use a third-party firm to keep encryption keys.] It's easier for somebody to search you."

Stroud also said owners of information searched during a criminal investigation will not necessarily know what information law enforcement officials have been examining because the draft bill would allow law enforcement officials in some cases to delay issuing notice of the search warrant.

"If you want information from me, come to me and get it," Stroud said. "Why go to somewhere else? Why go to my neighbor? If you have a problem, hit it straight on."

NEXT STORY: CACI names Johnson president

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.