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Politics vs Technology

Hal Finney

From: Mike Ingle <[email protected]>
> But could the government ban a book today? Of course not, at least not
> after one person typed it or scanned it into a computer. Technological
> gains are permanent. The political approach is only useful as a
> tactical weapon, to hold them off until technological solutions are
> in place. If you want to change the world, don't protest. Write code!

This position seems to be fast becoming cypherpunks dogma, but I don't agree. The notion that we can just fade into cypherspace and ignore the unpleasant political realities is unrealistic, in my view.

Have people forgotten the Clipper proposal, with the possible follow-on to make non-Clipper encryption illegal? To the extent this proposal has been or will be defeated, it will happen through political maneuvering, not technology.

Have people forgotten the PGP export investigation? Phil Zimmermann hasn't. He and others may be facing the prospect of ten years in prison if they were found guilty of illegal export. If anyone has any suggestions for how to escape from jail into cyberspace I'd like to hear about them.

Mike's SecureDrive is a terrific program for protecting privacy. But if we want to keep keys secret from politically-motivated investigations, we have to rely on the very political and non-technological Fifth Amendment (an amendment which Mike Godwin of EFF and others contend does not actually protect disclosure of cryptographic keys). Again, we need to win political, not technological, victories in order to protect our privacy.

I even question Mike's point about the government's inability to ban books. Look at the difficulty in keeping PGP available in this country even though it is legal. Not only have FTP sites been steadily closed down, even the key servers have as well. And this is legal software.

Sure, this software is currently available overseas, but that is because PGP's only legal limitations are the U.S. patent issues. Imagine how much worse it would be if non-escrowed encryption were made illegal in a broad range of countries, with stringent limits on net access to countries which promote illegal software? Here again, these kinds of decisions will be made in the political realm.

Fundamentally, I believe we will have the kind of society that most people want. If we want freedom and privacy, we must persuade others that these are worth having. There are no shortcuts. Withdrawing into technology is like pulling the blankets over your head. It feels good for a while, until reality catches up. The next Clipper or Digital Telephony proposal will provide a rude awakening.

Hal Finney
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