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Debate Over Encryption

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 66 Issue: 1 Dated: January 1999 Pages: 31-35
Lois Pilant
Date Published
January 1999
5 pages
This article examines the impact of encryption on law enforcement.
The major issue in the debate over encryption is the inclusion or development of some kind of recovery mechanism that would give law enforcement real-time access to lawfully obtained crime-related data. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a workable recovery mechanism would: (1) ensure the integrity of an investigation by storing, or keeping in escrow, the recovery information with a third party and requiring a court order for release to law enforcement of the key that would unlock encrypted files; (2) keep investigation methods open to public scrutiny and prevent clandestine hacking into a suspect's files; (3) provide confidentiality for law enforcement, keeping secret an investigator's request for escrowed recovery information in the same manner requests for phone records are kept confidential; and (4) allow immediate access. Also at issue is the idea of export controls to keep unbreakable cryptography from enemy hands. However, there are some who maintain that the heart of the debate is an emotional argument about privacy. Law enforcement, public safety officials, commercial enterprises and private citizens all have an interest in keeping communications secure from unwarranted access. But there continues to be a stalemate when it comes to a solution.