Don't Let Washington Play `I Spy' On You

Will the Information Superhighway enable the federal government to become a high-tech snoop on a scale undreamt of in George Orwell's worst nightmares? For those who believe in the Fourth Amendment's promise that citizens shall be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects," the latest rumblings are ominous.

The Clinton Administration is pushing two bad ideas left over from President Bush: the Digital Telephony Initiative and the Escrowed Encryption Standard (EES), known by the code name "Clipper".

Take the telephone initiative. Under current law, the government can obtain phone records without a warrant and can even trace all local calls. The proposed legislation allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to trace calls as they are made.

Clipper is worse. The government is offering business a new system for encrypting computer data files, data transmissions, and voice telephone calls to protect it from hackers and industrial spies. But built into the encryption computer chip is a trapdoor called the Law Enforcement Access Field, which gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency a way to decode messages.

Corporate reaction to Clipper is overwhelmingly hostile. First, Clipper requires a special chip, meaning that encryption cannot simply be written into new or existing programs. Second, the trapdoor would give the government enormous snooping power over corporate life.

Wise citizens--corporate and individual--should heed Thomas Jefferson's advice to remain eternally vigilant against an overreaching government.

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