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Tuesday, January 20, 1998 Published at 17:26 GMT



Talking Point

Should governments control Internet encryption? Your reaction

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I am a newsman who paid my price in torture chambers for my freedom.Yes,we should protect in every possible way our basic freedom of opinion. For that reason, I think the Net should be watched because it is used against those same freedoms and, soon, at any moment, it will be used not only to help the drug traffickers wash their money or sell their stuff.It will also be used by terrorists to kill.No doubt about it, they'll find a way to turn the Net into a dangerous virus.
Nahum Sirotsk, Brazil, presently in Israel

There is such a lot of information about us and our private lives stored and circulated in the various bank, credit card, hotel, rail and other computers, which can be accessed, that the notion of existing privacy seems to be dented already. Why bother?
I lived in Poland during the Martial Law in 1981/82. Talking about the current state of the Internet in that context is a blasphemy.
Wlodzimierz Tych, UK

The government cannot control internet encryption, all the time they do, online business is destined to fail. we need strong encryption with no back doors.
Laurie Knight, United Kingdom

It isn't just a privacy issue - if strong, private encryption is not available then building a viable financial structure on the net isn't feasible: both for digital cash and digital signatures rely on it.
Duncan Ellis, UK

There are two major flaws with the idea of regulation of encryption. Firstly, regulation will only stop law-abiding users from using encryption (also making them easy prey for crimes such as credit card fraud and cellular phone cloning); criminals and the paranoid will manage to hide in some way.
Secondly, if a breaucracy has access to people's private communications and identities, there is the danger of abuse by corrupt officials in a present or future government.
Andrew C. Bulhak, Australia

Since E-mail and other electronic communication are replacing letter mail and written communication, I think the new forms should merit at least as much protection as the old. Where a communication passes between countries I think it should be protected by the laws of both countries before either government may tamper with it.
Tom Shiek, USA

Governments find it almost impossible to regulate matters such as the fair distribution of wealth, health care services etc. A "simple" matter like the Internet, should be a 'piece of cake'!
Walter Gjosund, Canada

Governments should not be given the authority to engage in tyranical behavior. If governments can open email, Whats next? Personal mail? Your home? Automobile?
Christian Pietraszewski, USA

I am against controls on the development and use of the Internet. Much of the reason for it's success is a lack of institutional restrictions, on the other hand it is no longer a venue exclusively for technically adept and socially responsible individuals, although it is unlikely that this would be addressed by government. Yes, I hate junk e-mailers, and AOL.
On the whole, I believe our government represents the interests of the people, but unfortunately this is not universal. Does the freedom of speech of the individual outweigh the need for the state to protect its interests?
An additional consideration is whether the nation states of the physical world have any authority or mandate in cyberspace.
I think that the proposed system of TTPs seems a lot more sensible than the US's approach to the issue of encryption, but I wonder how this could be policed; I suspect that only those whose actions are legitimate would subscribe to the policy, while those who really have something to hide from the state would be free to flaunt it undetected.
I am not aware of any such controls on any other form of communication, and see this as yet another panic measure.
Colin McKinnon, UK

The problem with designing flawed encryption allowing for government access is that those same flaws can be exploited to facilitate illegal decryption too.
Mark Fowler, UK

Governments have no rights to do it. If Governments have the rights to do it, it says we have no any private rights.
Lee Kyung-Sung, South Korea

I have the feeling that one more time, a new constraint is to be applied to all citizens in order to catch a few criminals. However I suppose that mafia will find the means to continue (its their job) while we are carefully monitored..
Georgeot France.

The governments should get there hands off the internet...
Lars Ulrik AErendal, Denmark

I think that messages sent across the internet should be private. If governments are able to control how we communicate, what next? They'll be trying to rule the country or something.
Nick, UK

I am strongly in favour of civil rights, but recognise the necessity for tackling organised crime in all of its manifestations. Up to now most people on this talking point have argued against controls, but they are people who have a legitimate use for the Internet and want to go about their business freely. Absolutely right, and very strict controls need to answer the how, when and what questions of its use. There has to be a balance between the Big Brother state and ending the tyrany of the barstewards involved in organised crime who - seen or unseen - do so much to harm the rest of us.
Andi-Tsuyoshi Williams, Japan

There is a growing factor of too much government control. Limit that factor and remain FREE!!
Rod Lough, USA

Freedom of speech plays a vital role in any "democratic" state... and besides, quite reasonable encryption tools are readily available and provide quite good security for e-mail and the like. Perhaps governments should be more worried about the less rigorous border controls nowadays... it can't be all that difficult to cross national borders with weapons or explosives.
Joel Clary, UK

For heaven's sake leave us at least one channel of communication without Big Brother breathing down our necks! Actually, the very fact that certain users encrypt is enough to arouse suspicions and I am sure that the police (or whoever) can then proceed in their investigations by other methods. At the worst, one could imagine a legal process involving an application to the courts to require user X to hand over his virtual key where there are strong grounds for suspicion of certain illegal activities (organised crime, child pornography...). Failure to do so would then in itself be a reason for prosecution.
Duncan Richards, France

Hands off our privacy! I do not see that controlling encryption will deter criminals to communicate, they will find other ways, as they have always done in the past.
Jacques Berthier, Belgium

Would you send all your letters on postcards? Encryption is an envelope for E-Mail and governments should have no access to our private communications. Electronic databases mean our lives are already too easily scrutinised, just read some of the horror stories from people who have had their credit ratings blacklisted by 'infallible' technology. Data is power and the government, especially a Labour government should protect personal privacy.
Sean Pert, UK

In what is becoming an increasingly regulated, complicated & conformist society the Internet finally offers the opportunity to return some basic & fundamental freedoms to ordinary citizens - don't give it up !
John Verbeeten, Canada

Should governments control internet encryption? Can they is the real question!
Miles Motture, Canada

It doesn't matter who controls the encryption, there will always be a way round it...
Phil, UK

I am not convinced that any information obtained would remain confidential. There is little evidence of ability to prevent the disclosure of confidential information as things stand at present.
John McLennan, Scotland, UK

I think it's pointless trying to control communication on the internet. The internet is such a wild and untameable place that no legislation can really affect it. As soon as one encryption is broken, someone will write another one.
Kieran L. Brown, Wales

Those who believe governments will only use key recovery to monitor criminals are incredibly naive. Strong encryption without the possibility of monitoring (e.g. PGP 2.6.2) is readily available for free on sites around the world, and if it's made illegal, criminals will use it anyway. The only ones who will end up being monitored are law-abiding citizens.
The assertion that law-abiding people have nothing to hide is nonsense. As corruption always lurks around the corner, governments are not to be trusted with their citizen's private and sensitive information.
The Dutch police have caused countrywide concern by monitoring at least twice as many phone calls, etc. as in any other European country. They now plan to arbitrarily tap Internet traffic too. As a citizen protected by freedom of speech I demand the ability to discuss matters private to me with whomever I want in 100% secure privacy.
Martijn Dekker, Netherlands

It is not for Governments, particularly ours with its traditional obsession for hiding as much as possible about its actions, to seek to control the flow of information. Not everyone is happy to have Big Brother poking about in their mailbox and criminality, whether real or potential, is no excuse for snooping.
John Nicol, Scotland, UK

Criminal use of the Internet must be quantitatively qualified before any justification can be made to censor or control use of this medium. If the Governments reasoning were applied to the use of the telephone, then every telephone conversation would be monitored IN CASE it were about plans to do something illegal. This is an absurd reason to control this open medium and an invalid one to invade my privacy even though I might have nothing to hide.
Bob Saunders, USA

Strong Encryption redresses the balance towards privacy form a situation where electronic messages could be routinely and mechanically scanned without the proper interpretation. The risk of strong encryption being used for illegal or immoral pursuits would not be reduced by passing laws. The genie is already well out of the bottle and it would be a massive undertaken to spot any unauthorised use.
Ken MacIver, United Kingdom

I believe that government control of this medium would be a very bad mistake. Government should embrace this kind of technology, it has the potential to deliver the actual 'voice of the people', to enable it to make better decisions on our behalf. Control and censorship surrounds us in every other media form. Let the internet be free ; a true forum of the people and for the people. The controls upon activities of criminals of one country which affect people of another would be near impossible to police. Let us not allow this potential threat, fractional as it is, to limit the enormous benefits which this form of global personal communication has to offer.
Ged Tonkin, United Kingdom

Everyone cries foul at the suggestion of such controls. However, the government must have the ability to deal with potential criminal activity on the Internet. This doesn't mean total control over what is accessed, so what is the problem?
Mervyn Edwards, England

Encryption is essential for those wanting to give e.g. credit card numbers over the net. Why should the government (British, European or USA) want to read those? Criminal message senders probably already have access to strong encryption, or else send "My cat has brown hair"-type messages, which mean nothing to anyone else.
Andy Nicholl, Scotland

We (the public) do have access to sophisticated encryption, I write my own. I would never dream of sending a letter in a see through envelope. Public Key Encryption CANNOT be controlled by anyone. What is wrong is that not enough people use it. Crime CANNOT be committed on the internet. Crime can only be committed in the REAL world, and that is the place to look for it. Nobody can control encryption that is a red herring. What is wrong is that not enough people know how to use it correctly. That especially applies to companies who have the most to gain from using it.
Chris Gibbs, United Kingdom

The technology is freely available, and government control over the areas of concern - national security, law enforcement - would be impossible. The only effect of legislation will be to raise the costs of day-to-day business, impose barriers to entry for technological innovation, and inhibit electronic commerce. The horse has bolted, leave the stable door alone.
Geoff Arnold, USA

I view others reading my email as an infringement of my personal freedom. After all, what is the difference between reading my mail and bugging my home or tapping my telephone line. Should the government also be considering installing hidden microphones in public places, who knows what they might uncover? Of course not, but this is what reading private email amounts to. Is it naive to believe that email is not already being read by security services? Perhaps we should be talking about how to control the government at it's agencies?
Tim Gavin-Wear, England

Seemingly rationale arguments will be used to get the wedge of control inserted. Unreasonable black and white choices will be proposed forcing a denial of motherhood, or, in this case, control of crime, in supporting the contrary position. BUT this should make you all the more careful. Beware.China today. Us tomorrow.
Eric Davies, USA

The Internet has been a phenomenom because of no government interference. In fact, the regulations should come from the agency issuing the Internet section.
Roberto Alvarez Galloso, United States

Governments should not control encryption- the keys should be long enough to be un-crackable. They should have no access to codes that they can switch on even in cases of emergency - there will be too many emergencies. I believe all UK international traffic is monitored and keywords are used to decide on which traffic is analysed further.
W. Walker, Scotland

The Internet can be used for a variety of criminal activities. For terrorist activities there is a genuine need to be able to use the Internet to track their activities. For pedophiles I would rather see the pictures made more difficult to find first, starting with the banning and removal of clearly illegal newsgroups from ISPs in this country. When it is so easy to find pictures people may be tempted to look, thereby increasing the problem and those who already look at the pictures can find them easily and fairly anonymously. There is the obvious danger, though, that peoples privacy will be seriously invaded so we need to be kept informed about just what is being done and tracked. This information needs to be freely available and distributed.
Phil Drinkwater, United Kingdom

The French government has a stupid and paranoid attitude to strong encryption This has the ironic effect of discouraging electronic commerce of all sorts, while encryption software is freely and easily obtainable from the US.This proves that government measures are in any case ineffective against the determined criminal, and as usual penalises the innocent. Governments are neither competent or qualified to intervene in this domain, including the British government, so unless they want to look silly, they should abstain.
Thomas, France

It will be impossible to enforce government regulation of encryption without monitoring every single e-mail and file attach that passes over the internet, and one can think of many ways to defeat such monitoring. Only an idiot would try to legislate in such circumstances.
Therion Ware, Malaysia

A locked door will only keep out an honest man. If criminals wish to use encryption, they will use the strongest encryption available to them, Anyone wishing to exercise their right to privacy will become a criminal under this kind of system. How is Jack Straw proposing to check every computer in the land for a copy of PGP?
Geoff McHugh, Northern Ireland

Why worry about encryption? I'm sure there are many other things that could be pursued. Lets face it, if a criminal wants to obscure information, they are going to do it anyway. I would much prefer to know that no one has the right to read my mail except the intended recipient.
Nathan Lennox, Australia

I think that the governments should try to stop minors accesing sites which they aren`t supposed to.
Ian Williams, Wales

Somebody has to have an overview, but its a matter of ensuring that the somebody is qualified, entirely trustworthy with the information. Is that a government agency?
Tom Smith, UK

The thought of the government intercepting private messages sends shivers down my spine...this is England we're talking about...not some arm of the old USSR regieme...should the government have easy access to our telephone lines too? Why not let them scan every single mailed letter before it arrives at its destination as well? Then we'd all be safe...not.
Angus Gulliver, England

Legitimate users of encryption would suffer from decreased security and those using it for criminal activities would not be affected. It would also be prohibitevly expensive to effectively police such a policy.
Ben Laughton, UK

We need more protection against goverment misuse of its existing powers and secrecy.
David Holland, UK

"Those who are innocent have nothing to fear" - the motto of every tinpot dictatorship in history. I wouldn't trust ANY government with the gift of my privacy.
We all seal our envelopes before we post them - not because we are guilty of anything but because the contents are no-one's business but our own. Would any government dare suggest the opening of those envelopes?
John Luby, Scotland

It has been stated that if you have nothing to hide then there is no reason why you should need to encrypt your communications. However, how many people would send their private thoughts through the post on the back of a postcard, let alone such details as credit card numbers. When you send a post- card only post office workers can read it, however an email sent in plaintext can be read by anyone in the world.
A. Robinson, UK

To actually police the use of encryption, the authorities would need to perform regular searches of all computer systems to look for illegal software. They don't have the resources to check the gigabytes and gigabytes of computer data out there, even if we wanted to give them the power to invade our privacy so blatantly.
Mathew, USA

Given the technical literacy of most government departments it will take a massive waste of money and effort. Let them get on with it; the sooner they realise the futility of what they are proposing the sooner we can start to think about more effective approaches to the problem (of which there are many).
Peter Bennett, UK

Absolutely not. As a software developer, I must say that encryption is a very dangerous tool in the hands of governments. If governments exercise the right to employ encryption technology in everyday use, we are very much closer to a single state totalitarian regime than it is possible to imagine. I have worked on government projects and I know this to be true.
G.T Fleming, UK

Criminals WILL use encryption anyway, regardless of the law on encryption (that's why they are criminals).
Michiel Blom, Netherlands

Government restriction of encryption threatens my security. It makes very little difference to national security.
Philip Logan, Canada

A super secret criminal or terrorist group will most likely develop and use their own network without having to piggy-back public channels, albeit this is the nature of camouflage. The government should not be allowed to control Internet Encryption because it sets a precedent which enables it to further intrude into the very private lives of any citizen it suspects or merely chooses. It's an exchange of freedom for safety implemented by tighter government control. This is a case in which the public is being duped into believing Internet Encryption is a major problem when in fact it isn't.
Neil Mendez, US

The Internet is fast become a haven for the crank pots, sexual devients, cyber-criminals and subversive organisations. We need a degree of control. Would we tolerate its limitless freedom if the media was radio, TV or paper?
Roger Robinson, UK

I do not believe the governments should have any control of the internet whatsoever. This is possibly the last frontier that we as humans have as a totally free environment.
Steve Little, USA

I feel governments should have the right to intercept messages and decrypt them to deter criminals. I don't like the word 'control' in your statement I feel that we should not hold any bars against technological advancements that can be made available via the Internet. This would be over defeating the whole concept of the Internet ' Information for the masses'.
Abdul Majeed, Rep. of Maldives

I believe the level of crime and pornography actively distributed on the internet is a very small portion of the daily traffic and as such is grossly over reported.
John Marshall, Scotland

A qualified yes. If the same procedure as used with phone tapping is applied - ie. police would have to seek a magistrates permission before intercepting an individual's e-mail.
Peter Gregson, UK

Government control of encryption will only serve to stifle the growth of on-line commerce - authentification and security rely on credible encryption.
John Hart, New Zealand

I have no doubt that certain organisations would gain from being able to encrypt messages, but one has to ask where would government intervention end? One of the main reasons for the explosion in Internet usage is anonymity and lack of intervention from 'authorities'. If anything could lead to the death of the Internet, this could be it.
Phil Askey, Singapore

My privacy is my privilege - it's a matter of principle. I have (but never use - it's merely for peace of mind) 128-bit encryption software and shall continue to upgrade when available.
Ramani Krishnan, Malaysia

I feel that to pass control of encryption to governments is effectively passing control of the internet itself to governments. However, I believe that governments should be able to obtain the right to intercept and decipher messages / data / email / websites, after proving to a judge that there is reasonable risk to national security, following much the same process as is required priot to establishing phone taps, etc.
Doug Lockhart, UK

The government has no right to intervene, with the private life of individuals, but has by all means the right to control the activities of illegal and criminal organization. The problem is to distinguish between the two.
Felix Polianski, Latvia

The recent increase in the number of internet vandals and hackers can send shivers down the spines!! To check the growth of fraudulent activites, such as spreading viruses and hacking, the government should take the right steps and NOW! If the internet is just left to grow on its own, where is its guidance going to come from??
Sulove Bothra, India

I believe that the governments first priority should be to try to regulate the amount of pornographic material that can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. If this material was by some means encrypted I would feel comfortable with my children accessing the net, and at the same time still allowing others the freedom of choice.
Michael Fields, England

Michael Fields concern about his children seeing pornographic material could be solved by using Net Nanny, Cyber Sitter or one of the many censor programs available. I think the Internet Service Providers should provide this sort of software when you connect to their service.
Ian Bignell, UK

Let goverment have the codes to read what they need. No one is stopping the free speech. Only criminals need worry about what is being sent.
Mark Shafer, USA

I think that freedom of creation is very important for innovation. Encryption is probably the first feature of the internet that can be abused by criminals, but there are many more! We would have to control all of them and that would mean to halt development of the internet. Similar to encryption, so far all inventions of great power have been abused for negative things. Atomic Energy for Atomic Bombs. We have to find other solutions than banning because we HAVE to keep innovating and evolve.
Ilan Hornstein, USA

Internet media are merely alternative means of expressing what is already done. What is the difference between conversing face to face or via the Internet? What is the difference between a handwritten letter and E-mail? All these methods of communication can be disguised or encrypted in some way. I would ask therefore people to explain the difference between sending an encrypted E-mail or printing out and posting by hand? I attribute such proposals to technophobic paranoia and sheer ignorance. On the libertarian grounds of privacy such regressive proposals must be opposed fervently. The European Commission has already acknowledged the fundamental right of European Citizens to such! privacy.
Richard Ramyar, UK

As a new communication media Internet should be moderated by governments. It is not aceptable that everybody can do whatever they want on the Internet.
Ernesto Vargas, Costa Rica

Governments are only just realising the genie that they let out of the bottle when they allowed the Internet to disperse information. The ability to make public any information is a powerful tool against the complacency of a political party in power. They should not know be permitted to have influence over that ability.
D Spinner, UK

If you ask questions about internet policy to an on-line audience, how do you expect anything other than a biased answer. You might just as well ask if people want to be taxed.
Mark King, UK

It's not a question of asking a biased audience as Mark King suggests; there's nothing 'different' about people who are on-line, they just happen to be on-line. McLuhan said 'it's the medium not the message', and the government seems to have remembered this wonderful old bit of sixties wisdom, and think that they can control it.
But it's NOT the medium; free speech and the right to privacy are not divisible by some factor of technology. Governments in democratic countries should be reminded from time to time that they govern with the consent of the people, and that includes those of us who are on-line.
Dan Holmes, UK

Jack Straw even contemplating the fact of taking control of encription just shows he knows nothing about the subject. If you allow a "back door" to encryption than anybody will be able to "hack" it, meaning there would be no point. The best know encryption program PGP was invented by a guy in his home (at first) and this is still very hard to crack, if the government think they are going to be able to stop coders and anybody with an interest could produce their own. This will just mean that resources are going to be spent on programers to try and break codes all the time, by the time they have the crime will be over anyway. He should spend the money tracking down the criminals at source instead of, yet again, banding all people who use the internet as criminals!
M Callaway, UK

I believe in freedom of speech and thoughts.
Manoj, India





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