Crypto Imperialism

CobraBoy (
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 11:16:20 -0700

HotWired, The Netizen
Global Network

Crypto Imperialism
by Declan McCullagh, Kenneth Neil Cukier, and Brock N. Meeks
Washington, DC, 23 October

The US offensive for international controls on strong encryption
will soon become a fusillade. In the next week, the Clinton
administration is set to create the position of a roving ambassador
whose job will be to marshal international support for a controlling
new US crypto policy, the Netizen has learned.

The crypto-czar will lobby foreign governments to change their laws
to comply with the US regulations announced on 1 October, which
temporarily allow businesses to export slightly stronger
data-scrambling applications if they pledge to develop a "key
recovery" system. In such a system, a still-undefined "trusted third
party" would hold the unscrambling key to any encryption, and could
be forced to give it over to law enforcement officials with a
warrant. The catch, of course, is that such a system permits
continued government access to encrypted communications.

But for that plan to work, an international "key recovery" framework
must be established. "What we need to do very clearly is to spend a
lot of time with other countries," William Reinsch, the US Department
of Commerce's undersecretary for export administration, told The

Reinsch said the newly annointed crypto ambassador would be
responsible for helping these countries move "in the same direction"
as the US by "helping facilitate that process and helping to reach any
agreements that need to be reached between us and them."

Reinsch said the position would defy the label "crypto-czar," because
the position isn't "a czar in the policy sense.... We don't envision
this person as one who would be giving a lot of speeches on the
subject and operating as a kind of public defender of the process."
Rather, the person would work within "a context which is largely
private, not public," Reinsch said. The president can confer the rank
of ambassador on a political appointee for up to six months without
Senate confirmation, the State Department said. And with ambassadorial
rank, the czar will be able to speak for the president.

The administration is currently considering a "short list" of
candidates "in the low single digits," drawn from current government
employees and private citizens, Reinsch said. If a current government
employee is chosen, he or she would be at the ambassadorial level, he
said, and the crypto duties would simply become an additional

If chosen from the private sector, it will be someone with
"significant stature," Reinsch said. That person would have "a close
association with the administration and the president and would be
viewed by the other countries as a senior representative who could
speak for the president with some confidence," Reinsch said. If a
private citizen is chosen, they would "do it for free and we'd pick up
the travel I guess."

The announcement should come "fairly quickly," he said. "I would hope
next week we could ice this one."

This bypasses the ongoing public debate in Congress over lifting
crypto export controls through legislation - Sen. Conrad Burns
(R-Montana) has pledged to keep fighting next year - and in the OECD,
says Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center. "This is backdooring the backdoor."

While others - notably Clint Brooks and Mike Nelson - have played the
role of crypto spokesperson before, this move represents a redoubling
of the administration's plans to impose its will internationally.

Yet international observers say the United States may find its plans
thwarted in the global arena, where many governments - already uneasy
about America imposing its hegemony on regional politics - will likely
resist another cryptocrat, even if the person comes with an
ambassador's honorific before his or her name.

"Europe would consider that unacceptable and arrogant, no question,"
says Simon Davies, director of Privacy International and a fellow at
the London School of Economics. "There would certainly be a backlash,
and it would cause immense suspicion. This whole business has become
extremely sleazy, and the Americans appear to have taken it all very
personally. I would be very surprised if it was taken seriously here."

Viktor Mayer-Schvnberger at the University of Vienna Law School, an
expert on international crypto policy, said that "if the US ups the
ante and brings in a sort of a quasi-diplomatic person to push
European countries further, I think we'll see tremendous

"It may backfire," says Mayer-Schvnberger. "The US put tremendous
pressure on Europe and that is going to increase if the US government
makes such a bold move as to appoint someone to do nothing but lobby
for key escrow." Many countries, he said, "have been very apprehensive
of the US coming in as the 'big guy' and telling the world what is
good and what is bad" regarding encryption.


"The future masters of technology will have to be lighthearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb." - Marshall McLuhan 1969

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