Blown To Bits

Senator Biden on Encryption

Monday, August 25th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

On page 190 of Blown to Bits, we tell the story of how government control of encryption became largely a moot issue. In 1991, Joe Biden, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, introduced two bills, the Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act and the Violent Crime Control Act. Both included language stating that the government should have the right to get the keys to all your encrypted communications:

It is the sense of Congress that providers of electronic communications services and manufacturers of electronic communications service equipment shall ensure that communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications when appropriately authorized by law.

It was this language, as we explain, that cause Phil Zimmermann’s PGP encryption software to appear on several publicly accessible servers. The encryption genie has yet to be put back into the bottle.

Obama is generally presumed to be more sensitive to civil liberties than McCain. Not sure it really matters, but Biden has been among the staunchest friends of the FBI’s investigatory powers. It’s anything but clear that the two of them would agree on, say, the most important characteristics of Supreme Court nominees.

Declan McCullagh has a thorough analysis of Biden’s technology record here.

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