A discussion of the ethics of encrypted communication and government intervention

Essay by Krod AmiUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 1996

download word file, 5 pages 3.8

E-mail and internet communications are not secure or anonymous. System Administrators and fourteen year-old hackers alike can pry into your personal or corporate mail. Anything you send can be read by others. Communicating by e-mail has been compared to sending postcards that anyone can read as they travel along.

It is nearly impossible to communicate anonymously through e-mail. Though many people don't use their real names on e-mail messages, the names are always recorded somewhere. Almost any communication can be traced back to the person who sent it.

The ability to trace and read e-mail has caused some people embarrassment. It has caught people who were sexually harassing others in the workplace. It has also been responsible for the arrest of many people who were trafficking drugs, running scams, or distributing child pornography.

Now a new innovation, RSA encryption, has made it possible for e-mail and other communications to be almost completely secure.

In this encoding scheme, both the sender and the receiver have a key, or a sequence of code numbers. The data is scrambled according to these number strings and cannot be read by anyone who doesn't have the key. The longer the string of numbers is, the harder it is to crack the code. The government is concerned that by using a lot of numbers, (over 1000) users could create a code that the government wouldn't be able to crack. Thus the government would lose the ability it now has to intercept and read your e-mail as it travels.

The encryption scheme was developed by three civilians who are not affiliated with the government. But when the United States government learned about what it could do, they placed strict rules on the research and implementation of the scheme. The government also made it a crime to...