Privacy On The Line:

The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption

by Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau

Comsec, sigint, NSA, NIST, DES, Clipper chip, key escrow -- such technobabble related to intelligence-gathering can baffle the uninitiated. This authoritative treatise helps unveil some of the mystery and puts contemporary freedom, privacy, and security issues in perspective. After explaining basic concepts of cryptography, the authors cover the history of 20th-century intelligence gathering, then recound the long, discouraging saga of the U.S. government's invasions of its citizens' privacy.

In World War II, census data were used illegally to round up Japanese Americans. In the 1950s and '60s, the CIA read private mail, and in the 1970s, it monitored research requests in public libraries. The electronic spying of our security agencies is not even a law-enforcement bargain -- wiretapping is costly and produces arguably modest results. Issues of the 1990s include the 1992 Digital Telephone Proposal, the legal vicissitudes of "Pretty Good Privacy," and the government's attempts to require key escrow (storage of keys so that the government can crack coded messages). As in earlier times, we still see competition between the various security bureaucracies. Diffie is a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems and the inventor of public-key cryptography (software that encodes a document with one key and deciphers it with another); Landau is a research associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Together, they bring formidable expertise to bear on complex topics.

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