Feeds

White House cypher proposal could upstage Congress

Clinton finally decrypts the writing on the wall

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

A palpably apprehensive, sweat-soaked bundle of Clinton-administration luminaries held a press conference last night to tout the White House's latest end-run around Congress in the realm of crypto exports. US Attorney General Janet Reno looked as if a gun were pressed against her back as she recited, with painful reluctance, the advantages of the President's new legislative proposal, the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act, or CESA. The Act authorises exports of strong crypto subject to technical review and exceptions for "hostile" governments. "The widespread use of encryption poses significant challenges to law enforcement and to public safety," Reno intoned. She mechanically repeated the DoJ mantra, that crypto inhibits the Knights of Righteousness in "stopping a terrorist attack or recovering a kidnapped child [where] encountering encryption may mean the difference between success and catastrophic failure." She regretted that the revised proposal now makes the touchy business of key escrow voluntary. She frowned; she fussed nervously with her ill-fitted spectacles; she grimaced and pouted. But she insisted it was a brilliant proposal. We think her lips were moving, at any rate. The message was clear: more and better crypto will necessarily mean more and better crime. To even the field upon which America's evildoers and heroes will do battle, the CESA authorises substantial allocations of money to the FBI's Technical Support Centre, which will dedicate itself to finding methods of obtaining evidence in spite of encryption. The FBI's score is nothing to sneeze at: a hefty US $80 million, to be spread through FY 2003. Law enforcement was not alone in its discomfiture. Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre warned that the Department of Defence would "have to develop new tools" to compensate for strong crypto exports. The DoD is "the largest single entity that operates in cyberspace," he boasted, as if to confirm the worst fears of conspiracy theorists across the USA. Hamre regretted the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act (SAFE) proposed by Congress. "The only people who would be 'safe' if that passed would be spies, who would be free to export anything of national security interest without any surveillance at all," he quipped. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R--Texas) convened his own press conference shortly after, cautiously welcoming the Clinton proposal but at the same time making it clear that the SAFE Act would not be removed from the House schedule. "We welcome the White House effort here; we will look at it with a great deal of interest...but we know how well [the SAFE Act] is tuned, so we will proceed on that basis," Armey said. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R--Virginia), a co-author of the SAFE Act, attributed the White House reversal to mounting congressional pressure. "This has been a long battle, and we are going to see it through to its correct conclusion. But the changes being announced at the White House are very close to [our] legislation," he observed. But of course the Devil is in the details. "It remains to be seen how the administration will follow through, Goodlatte said. "Their announcement is very long on potential but short on detail, so we'll be watching very carefully to make sure that the regulations issued later this year will match the policy announced today." Goodlatte flatly contradicted the administration's core assumption that more crypto necessarily means more crime. He noted that strong crypto can actually reduce crime by effectively concealing such tempting targets as credit card and other financial information from prying eyes. A fair argument, but one quite useless on the Clinton administration and Reno DoJ, which can see only terrorists and kidnappers on the threat horizon. Perhaps those spectacles really do need adjusting. ®

Website security in corporate America

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.