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<nettime> Press release - The Crypto Controversy: no problem

From: Bert-Jaap Koops <>
To: [...]
Subject: Press release - The Crypto Controversy: no problem
Date: Wednesday, January 13, 1999 16:14

Press release - please spread widely

The Crypto Controversy: no problem

Tilburg, the Netherlands, 13 January 1999

The Dutch government should do nothing about the problem that cryptography
poses to law enforcement. All available options have more negative than
positive consequences. This is the conclusion of Bert-Jaap Koops in his
recently published Ph.D. thesis "The Crypto Controversy". Although
encoding programs potentially leave law-enforcement powerless to wiretap
communications and to conduct computer searches, there is not a real
solution to retrieve the keys to decipher encoded data. 

Koops, author of the Crypto Law Survey website, conducted a four-year
research at Tilburg University and Eindhoven University of Technology. He
analyzed the conflict of interests that cryptography poses to society. On
the one hand, encryption is crucial for information security and for
protecting privacy, but on the other hand, it enables criminals to escape
the scrutiny of law enforcement.  Governments are trying hard to address
this conflict of interests, but their proposals for regulation have been
controversial. The policy debate is polarized, with privacy activists and
law-enforcement agencies fiercely opposing each other's point of view. 

To address this crypto controversy, Koops discusses four possible
solutions: building-in Law-Enforcement Access to Keys (LEAK systems),
demanding suspects to decrypt, using alternative investigation measures,
and doing nothing. The first option is flawed, because secure LEAK systems
are not yet available, and criminals will anyway not use crypto which they
know to contain a backdoor for the police.  The second option, demanding
suspects to decrypt, yields only very limited opportunities, because of
the privilege against self-incrimination. Alternative investigation
measures, such as using directional microphones and intercepting radiation
from computer screens, can provide some leeway for the police if wiretaps
lose their efficacy, but they are serious infringements of people's

Koops concludes that, for the time being, the "zero option"  is
preferable: governments should decide upon a policy to do nothing about
the crypto problem. To meet developments in crime and cryptography, this
policy should be reviewed periodically. "Perhaps the government will
slowly have to adapt to the idea that wiretapping is not a panacea for the
information need of the police." 

As Koops suggests: "if there is no solution, there is no problem either."
Rather than continue to worry over the crypto controversy, the government
should concentrate its energy and resources on other pressing social
issues which it can address. 

--------------------------Publication details -------------------------- 

Bert-Jaap Koops, The Crypto Controversy. A Key Conflict in the Information
Society. The Hague / London / Boston, Kluwer Law International, 1999, 301
pages, ISBN 90 411 1143 3. 

A summary and ordering information are available at 

Curriculum vitae

Bert-Jaap Koops (1967) studied mathematics and literature at Groningen
University. After working for Amnesty International for two years, he
started a Ph.D. research at Tilburg University and Eindhoven University of
Technology at the faculties of law, mathematics and technology management.
Since October 1998, he is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Law,
Public Administration and Informatization of Tilburg University. 

Koops is editor of the Dutch reference book Recht & informatietechnologie.
Hij co-edited a book on Emerging Electronic Highways and has published
widely on crypto regulation, computer crime, and Trusted Third Parties. He
maintains an extensive worldwide survey of crypto laws on the Internet.

Bert-Jaap Koops <>
Tilburg University
13 January 1999

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