1994-02-25 - Rivest’s response to Denning Newsday Editorial

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From: Matt Blaze <mab@research.att.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
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UTC Datetime: 1994-02-25 22:13:01 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 25 Feb 94 14:13:01 PST

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From: Matt Blaze <mab@research.att.com>
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 94 14:13:01 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Rivest's response to Denning Newsday Editorial
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Forwarded with permission...

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From: rivest@theory.lcs.mit.edu (Ron Rivest)
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Date: Fri, 25 Feb 94 16:24:20 EST
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To: denning@cs.cosc.georgetown.edu
Cc: efbrick@cs.sandia.gov, hellman@isl.stanford.edu, Rivest@mc.lcs.mit.edu,
        silvio@theory.lcs.mit.edu, smb@research.att.com, mab@research.att.com,
        jim@rsa.com, diffie@eng.sun.com
Subject: Newsday Editorial

Hi Dorothy --

Thanks for sending me a copy of your editorial.  But I find the
reasoning you present misleading and unpersuasive.

First, you argue that the clipper chip will be a useful law
enforcement tool.  Given the small number of currently authorized
wiretaps per year (under 1000) and the ease of using alternative
encryption technology or superencryption, it seems plausible to me
that law enforcement could expect at most ten "successful" clipper
wiretaps per year.  This is a pretty marginal basis for claiming that
clipper will "block crime".

Second, you seem to believe that anything that will "block crime" must
therefore be a "good thing" and should therefore be adopted.  This is
not true, even if it is not subject to government abuse.  For example,
a system that could turn any telephone (even when on-hook) into an
authorized listening microphone might help law enforcement, but would
be unacceptable to almost all Americans.  As another example, tatooing
a person's social security number on his or her buttocks might help
law enforcement, but would also be objectionable.  Or, you could
require all citizens to wear a bracelet that could be remotely queried
(electronically, and only when authorized) to return the location of
that citizen.  There are all kinds of wonderfully stupid things one
could do with modern technology that could "help" law enforcement.
But merely being of assistance to law enforcement doesn't make a
proposal a good thing; many such ideas are objectionable and
unacceptable because of the unreasonably large cost/benefit ratio 
(real or psychological cost). The clipper proposal, in
my opinion, is of exactly this nature.

Third, you seem unnecessarily polly-annish about our government and the
potential for abuse.  The clipper proposal places all trust for its
management within the executive branch; a corrupt president could
direct that it be used for inappropriate purposes.  The unspecified
nature of many of the associated procedures leaves much room to
speculate that there are "holes" that could be exploited by government
officials to abuse the rights of American citizens.  Even if the
proposal were modified to split the trust among the various branches
of government, one might still reasonably worry about possible abuse.
Merely because you've met the current set of representatives of
various agencies, and feel you can trust them, doesn't mean that such
trust can be warranted in their successors.  One should build in
institutional checks and balances that overcome occasional moral
lapses in one or more office holders.

Fourth, your discussion of "searching your home and seizing your
papers" is misleading.  You seem to imply that because law enforcement
can be issued a warrant to search your home, that we should adopt
clipper.  Yet this analogy only makes sense if individuals were
required to deposit copies of their front door keys with the
government.  I can build any kind of house I wish (out of steel, for
example), and put any kind of locks on it, and wire up any kind of
intrusion detectors on it, etc.  The government, armed with a search
warrant, is not guaranteed an "easy entry" into my home at all.  The
appropriate analogical conclusion is that individuals should be able
to use any kind of encryption they want, and the government should be
allowed (when authorized, of course) to try and break their

Finally, you argue (elsewhere, not in this editorial) that the decision
rests in part on "classified" information.  Such an argument only makes
sense if there is a specific law-enforcement situation that makes such
classified information timely and relevant.  (E.g., if there was a
current investigation as to whether the Department of the Treasury had
been infiltrated by organized crime.)  The use of "classified information"
is otherwise generally inappropriate in discussing communications policy
that will last over decades.  

This hardly covers all of the relevant issues, but it covers the
points that came immediately to mind in reading your editorial...


P.S. Feel free to pass along, quote, or otherwise re-distribute this...

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Return-Path: <@axp1.acc.georgetown.edu:denning@cs.cosc.georgetown.edu>
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 1994 16:16:09 -0500 (EST)
From: Dorothy Denning <denning@cs.cosc.georgetown.edu>
Subject: Newsday Editorial
To: efbrick@cs.sandia.gov, hellman@isl.stanford.edu, Rivest@mc.lcs.mit.edu,
        silvio@theory.lcs.mit.edu, smb@research.att.com, mab@research.att.com
Cc: denning@guvax.acc.georgetown.edu
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7BIT

|           Newsday, Tuesday, February 22, 1994, Viewpoints            |

                    The Clipper Chip Will Block Crime
                          By Dorothy E. Denning

   Hidden among the discussions of the information highway is a fierce
debate, with huge implications for everyone.  It centers on a tiny
computer chip called the Clipper, which uses sophisticated coding to
scramble electronic communications transmitted through the phone

   The Clinton administration has adopted the chip, which would allow
law enforcement agencies with court warrants to read the Clipper codes
and eavesdrop on terrorists and criminals.  But opponents say that, if
this happens, the privacy of law-abiding individuals will be a risk.
They want people to be able to use their own scramblers, which the
government would not be able to decode.

   If the opponents get their way, however, all communications on the
information highway would be immune from lawful interception.  In a
world threatened by international organized crime, terrorism, and rogue
governments, this would be folly.  In testimony before Congress, Donald
Delaney, senior investigator with the New York State Police, warned
that if we adopted an encoding standard that did not permit lawful
intercepts, we would have havoc in the United States.

   Moreover, the Clipper coding offers safeguards against casual
government intrusion.  It requires that one of the two components of
a key embedded in the chip be kept with the Treasury Department and the
other component with the Commerce Department's National Institute of
Standards and Technology.  Any law enforcement official wanting to
wiretap would need to obtain not only a warrant but the separate
components from the two agencies.  This, plus the superstrong code and
key system would make it virtually impossible for anyone, even corrupt
government officials, to spy illegally.

   But would terrorists use Clipper?  The Justice Department has
ordered $8 million worth of Clipper scramblers in the hope that they
will become so widespread and convenient that everyone will use them.
Opponents say that terrorists will not be so foolish as to use
encryption to which the government holds the key but will scramble
their calls with their own code systems.  But then who would have
thought that the World Trade Center bombers would have been stupid
enough to return a truck that they had rented?

   Court-authorized interception of communications has been essential
for preventing and solving many serious and often violent crimes,
including terrorism, organized crime, drugs, kidnaping, and political
corruption.  The FBI alone has had many spectacular successes that
depended on wiretaps.  In a Chicago case code-named RUKBOM, they
prevented the El Rukn street gang, which was acting on behalf of the
Libyan government, from shooting down a commercial airliner using a
stolen military weapons system.

   To protect against abuse of electronic surveillance, federal
statutes impose stringent requirements on the approval and execution
of wiretaps.  Wiretaps are used judiciously (only 846 installed
wiretaps in 1992) and are targeted at major criminals.

   Now, the thought of the FBI wiretapping my communications appeals to
me about as much as its searching my home and seizing my papers.
But the Constitution does not give us absolute privacy from
court-ordered searches and seizures, and for good reason.  Lawlessness
would prevail.

   Encoding technologies, which offer privacy, are on a collision
course with a major crime-fighting tool: wiretapping.  Now the
Clipper chip shows that strong encoding can be made available in a way
that protects private communications but does not harm society if it
gets into the wrong hands.  Clipper is a good idea, and it needs
support from people who recognize the need for both privacy and
effective law enforcement on the information highway.

| Copyright Newsday.  All rights reserved.  This article can be freely |
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