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Here's an interesting question:
What happens when your star technical witness tells others she's no longer
your witness at all?
Denning now says she has doubts...
(Responses? I'm no longer on cypherpunks, so mail me directly.
Administration Supporter Having Second Thoughts On Encryption Plan
By Will Rodger 1:30 PM EDT
Nixon went to China. Constantine converted to Christianity. Napoleon crowned
So why can't Dorothy Denning be a cypherpunk?
That's the question encryption mavens ask as the Georgetown University
computer scientist slowly lets the word out: She won't back government plans
for key recovery, key escrow or anything else alleged to increase national
security until backers show that the benefits of controls on encryption
outweighs those of letting free market forces govern its use.
That's a far cry from the way she once talked about encryption technology. As
recently as this year Denning was pegged as a strong backer of keeping
controls on a wide range of computer-security products.
"Maybe export controls should be lifted," Denning said. "But I'm not saying
that all controls should be lifted. I've gotten into a state where I don't
know and I'm not sure that I ever knew."
Denning may be the only prominent cryptographer to support government control
of encryption technology, the underlying technology behind nearly all
Internet security devices that scramble information so even the wiliest
hacker is powerless to decode it. As the author of the first widely read
textbook on the subject, her opinion carries weight with at least some in the
Since encryption can be used to defeat lawful wiretaps and other electronic
searches and seizures, Denning backed law enforcement as it tried to fight
encryption's spread abroad.
But now a host of objections to the Clinton administration's plan have turned
the argument on its head. As the Internet becomes more popular for business
use, encryption is more important than ever to keep hackers out. And a recent
cryptographer's report suggesting that it would be far riskier to give
governments spare keys to decode messages in a few places than not to have
third party access at all has clearly shaken Denning's confidence.
Policy specialists in Washington and elsewhere have speculated that Denning
would announce something soon, but none wants to push her for fear of
alienating someone who could end up a potent ally.
"I don't think any close scientific observer of this debate can deny that
there are real technical concerns raised by the Administration's position,"
said Alan Davidson, counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology.
"I think its just best for us to sit back and not say anything at this
point," added another prominent activist. "We don't want to force her hand."
Will Denning go over to the other side?
"I'm not advocating anything anymore," Denning said. "I support what the
administration is doing because I really see them struggling with these
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Washington Bureau Chief
A Ziff-Davis Publication
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