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Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society (1996)

Chapter: Part I - Framing the Policy Issues

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Suggested Citation:"Part I - Framing the Policy Issues." National Research Council. 1996. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5131.
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Page 17

PART I
Framing the Policy Issues

PART I IS INTENDED TO EXPLICATE the fundamental issues underlying national cryptography policy. Chapter 1 outlines basic elements of a critical problem facing the nation—the increasing vulnerability of information, a commodity that has become essential to national well-being and future opportunity. This vulnerability results from a number of trends, including the explosive growth of digital communications and data storage, the increasingly international dimensions of business, and the growing dependence of the nation on a number of critical information systems and networks. Chapter 2 describes how cryptography can play an important role in reducing the information vulnerability of the nation, of businesses, and of private individuals. Chapter 2 also places cryptography into context, as one element of an overall approach to information security, as a product that responds to factors related to both supply and demand, and as a technology whose large-scale use requires a supporting infrastructure. Chapter 3 discusses public policy issues raised by the need for access to encrypted information. The prospect of near-absolute confidentialty of information—a prospect enabled by modern cryptography—is reassuring to some and quite disturbing to others. Important public policy issues are raised by law enforcement authorities, who regard the ability to obtain information surreptitiously but legally as essential to their crime-fighting abilities, and by national security authorities, who place a high value on the ability to monitor the communications of potential adversaries. Even private individuals, who might wish to encrypt records securely, may face the need to recover their data as though they were outsiders if they have forgotten how to gain ''legitimate" access; the same is true for businesses in many situations.

Suggested Citation:"Part I - Framing the Policy Issues." National Research Council. 1996. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5131.
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Suggested Citation:"Part I - Framing the Policy Issues." National Research Council. 1996. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5131.
×
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"Part I - Framing the Policy Issues." National Research Council. 1996. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5131.
×
Page 18
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For every opportunity presented by the information age, there is an opening to invade the privacy and threaten the security of the nation, U.S. businesses, and citizens in their private lives. The more information that is transmitted in computer-readable form, the more vulnerable we become to automated spying. It's been estimated that some 10 billion words of computer-readable data can be searched for as little as $1. Rival companies can glean proprietary secrets . . . anti-U.S. terrorists can research targets . . . network hackers can do anything from charging purchases on someone else's credit card to accessing military installations. With patience and persistence, numerous pieces of data can be assembled into a revealing mosaic. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society addresses the urgent need for a strong national policy on cryptography that promotes and encourages the widespread use of this powerful tool for protecting of the information interests of individuals, businesses, and the nation as a whole, while respecting legitimate national needs of law enforcement and intelligence for national security and foreign policy purposes. This book presents a comprehensive examination of cryptography--the representation of messages in code--and its transformation from a national security tool to a key component of the global information superhighway. The committee enlarges the scope of policy options and offers specific conclusions and recommendations for decision makers. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society explores how all of us are affected by information security issues: private companies and businesses; law enforcement and other agencies; people in their private lives. This volume takes a realistic look at what cryptography can and cannot do and how its development has been shaped by the forces of supply and demand. How can a business ensure that employees use encryption to protect proprietary data but not to conceal illegal actions? Is encryption of voice traffic a serious threat to legitimate law enforcement wiretaps? What is the systemic threat to the nation's information infrastructure? These and other thought-provoking questions are explored. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society provides a detailed review of the Escrowed Encryption Standard (known informally as the Clipper chip proposal), a federal cryptography standard for telephony promulgated in 1994 that raised nationwide controversy over its "Big Brother" implications. The committee examines the strategy of export control over cryptography: although this tool has been used for years in support of national security, it is increasingly criticized by the vendors who are subject to federal export regulation. The book also examines other less well known but nevertheless critical issues in national cryptography policy such as digital telephony and the interplay between international and national issues. The themes of Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society are illustrated throughout with many examples -- some alarming and all instructive -- from the worlds of government and business as well as the international network of hackers. This book will be of critical importance to everyone concerned about electronic security: policymakers, regulators, attorneys, security officials, law enforcement agents, business leaders, information managers, program developers, privacy advocates, and Internet users.

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