President Clinton has been promoting his "key escrow" scheme, in one form or another, for quite a while now. Under this plan, we would all use secret, government-approved cryptographic algorithms. These algorithms would keep our conversations private from competitive spies, high school hackers, and other bad guys.

Meanwhile, however, the government would retain (escrow) all of the keys needed to decode any conversation that was ever conducted using this technology. This would allow them, for instance, to decode the conversations of bad guys: spies, terrorists, drug traffickers, and such. All sorts of legal protections would be in place, of course, to make sure that this privilege was never abused.

Initially, this plan was being promoted for international use. Current US law prohibits the export of strong cryptography, you see, and this technology would allow multinational corporations to have secure conversations with their overseas departments without breaking any US laws. Recently, however, President Clinton dropped the other boot, proposing that only this form of cryptographic technology be allowed, even within the US.

Happy Fourth of July, kiddies, now hand over your decoder rings. Give up, more specifically, PGP's strong, publicly examined, and thoroughly-tested cryptographic technology. In its place, accept a secret technology with known back doors, trusting our fearless leaders not to betray your trust in them.

The mind boggles. Does the President really believe that international spies and such will use compromised technology? Is he also confident that our own spooks will not come up (again) with reasons of national security (too private to tell a judge) that justify cracking assorted conversations? Just how much dope didn't he inhale?

Or, as I sometimes wonder, are these bad guys the real target? Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying there aren't drug traffickers and terrorists around. From what I read lately, in fact, drug money supports terrorists from Afghanistan to Honduras, with the CIA protecting the entire operation from the DEA. Who says our government can't get the job done?

But that is just a side issue. The real issue is whether you want this government, and all future governments of this fair land, to be able to decode anything they decide may be sufficiently important to public safety, national security, or (just possibly) acceptable moral behavior.

Governments change, you see, and their standards can change, as well. A well-respected Defense Department "think factory" was founded by a man who had been deemed "untrustworthy" (and hence unemployable) during the McCarthy era. Some 50's movies are only now being reissued with accurate credits, replacing the pseudonyms used by blacklisted personnel.

Resources

You don't have to take my word on this - look at the available information. Here are some rosources that can keep you in touch with the issues, key players, and proposals, as well as suggest some actions to take.

The Encryption Policy Resource Page (www.crypto.com) contains background information, late-breaking news, and pointers to related resources. This should be your starting point, bookmarked for frequent access.

If you want to be alerted to cryptography-related events by email, subscribe to the Voters Telecommunication Watch (www.vtw.org). You'll read items here long before you see them (if ever) in the mass media. Fortunately, the volume of mailings is kept down to a few postings each month.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (www.cdt.org) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) also are active in covering these issues. Visit these sites for broader coverage of electronic privacy and related topics.

Although I am somewhat amazed to find myself saying this, you should also look at Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum (www.eagleforum.org). This "Conservative Site of the Day" shows Ms. Schlafly posing with people like Robert Bork, Rush Limbaugh, and Ronald Reagan. Although I share few of Ms. Schlafly's political positions, I applaud her opposition to President Clinton's encryption proposals. For balance, I'll point out that Wired magazine (www.wired.com) also is a good place to look.