A copy of the letter is available on the web at: http://www.efc.ca/pages/crypto/gilc-letter.20apr98.html
Encryption, or encoding, which allows computer files and digital communications to be scrambled when stored or transmitted, and later descrambled using a secret key, is widely recognized as essential for protecting privacy in today's wired world. It is a technology that enables secure electronic commerce for business and private e-mail for personal communications. It can even be incorporated into new digital PCS cellular telephones to prevent snoops from listening in.
The organizations signing the letter, members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, highlighted the importance of cryptography for protecting freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to privacy.
The letter comes in response to a February 1998 Industry Canada report entitled "A Cryptography Policy Framework for Electronic Commerce", which listed possible scenarios for government regulation of cryptographic hardware and software. Dr. David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, this country's leading online civil liberties group, delivered the letter in Ottawa last week at a meeting with Industry Canada.
Advocates for government restrictions on the use of encryption technology include the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), all of which were represented at the Ottawa meeting, where they expressed concern about losing the ability to eavesdrop on email or voice communications when conducting investigations.
"Law enforcement agencies must be provided a means by which they can decrypt information they gather", said RCMP Commissioner Philip Murray at the meeting, and in the RCMP's written submission to Industry Canada. (see RCMP letter below)
"Canadians have the right to speak in codes", counters Jones. "We have the right to speak in languages the police don't understand, whether it is Inuktitut or Cree or some other digital language."
Concerned about the use of secret codes they can't crack, law enforcement officials have asked the government to consider a requirement that all secret keys be made stored in a manner that police can gain access, with court authorization, without the key owner knowing about it.
"This is comparable to asking the front-door keys for 10 million Canadian homes be deposited at the local police station, 'just in case' there was a need to execute a search warrant", says Jeffrey Shallit, vice-president of Electronic Frontier Canada. "Canadians are right to reject this as unreasonably intrusive."
'Mandatory key recover', as the controversial policy option is called, "would create an unnecessary risk that criminals might gain access to encryption keys", says Jones, "and this would undermine public trust in financial transactions conducted electronically."
"The deployment of a general key-recovery-based encryption infrastructure to meet law enforcement's stated requirements will result in substantial sacrifices in security", cautions a report published last year by leading cryptographers and computer scientists. (see "Risks" paper below)
Electronic Frontier Canada is a non-profit educational organization devoted to ensuring the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are preserved as new computing, communication, and information technologies emerge.
The list of organizations that signed the letter follows.
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