Jerry Berman is the Executive Director of The Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit organization that works for public policies that advance civil liberties and democratic values in new computer and communications technologies. He recently spoke with NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden about encryption and computer security.
TOM BEARDEN: Just a basic question -- what's your concerns about the critical infrastructure process that's underway?
Finding the right solution.
JERRY BERMAN: Well, our concern is that they are focusing on the wrong solution. Privacy and security are absolutely critical in cyberspace. All of us, as Americans, are going to be putting our medical records -- we already are -- medical records, our bank records, our credit transactions, our personal e-mail. They are transmitting around the world. We are putting our private lives online, and we need security.
The major thrust of the business community and the technology community say we need tactical security. We need encryption, we need strong coding devices which are the locks and keys of the information age. That is the major fight going on out here.
The corporate community and the business community, from Microsoft to AOL and CDT are saying we need encryption. That's what locks the information up. We don't need more cops.
The critical infrastructure study (The Presidential Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection) is saying we have a big security problem, but what we need is more cops. Certainly we need more human security. But what we face in the policy disconnect is our government is at the same time saying we need more policemen, they are not allowing the corporate community and the business community to employ strong encryption. They're saying we cannot have strong encryption, we're not going to let you export it, we're not going to let you deploy it because it presents national security risks to us. We want encryption where we can open the door.
If we can open the door to your privacy, then you can deploy that encryption. That is not security. It is if they were saying leave the front door of your house open so that we can get in to catch crooks. But don't worry about it, we will monitor all the houses all over the city with police.
The real security issue is encryption, giving products, and allowing products to be deployed which give that kind of security. It's what the government said we needed 10 years ago when the hacker crisis first came about. Now the technical community, the computer communications industry is ready to deploy strong tools to protect privacy, and the government is saying no.
That is the disconnect, and I think that until we get our policy on allowing citizens to use strong locks and keys in cyberspace, we will not have real security.
TOM BEARDEN: Is there any evidence that that disconnect is being addressed at all?
JERRY BERMAN: There is continuing efforts by the business community to say please change your policy. Let us use strong encryption. The administration, under the pressure from Congress leaders like Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Pat Leahy (D -VT)on the hill pushing for that policy have said we're not for really controlling encryption. We want to have a dialogue. But that potential dialogue has been going on for five years, and we see that both sides are still at logger-heads. The administration insisting on a law enforcement solution which does not provide real security in the network, and the computer community saying we are real security and privacy turns on technical means, and we have to find different ways to address the law enforcement problem.
TOM BEARDEN: Given what you've just said, what do you make of the process that the presidential commission is following and the recommendations it is making, and how do you think the administration is likely to respond?
Rating the presidential commission.
JERRY BERMAN: Well, I think that the administration and the intelligence community are saying in this post-Cold War world there are new challenges, and let us redeploy a lot of people and resources that were designed to fight the Cold War to protect our critical infrastructures, from energy to the communications infrastructure.
Certainly everyone deserves and needs to have full employment, and we need strong security in this country. But that is really not the right deployment. It is -- we need some human intelligence, some human resources, some law enforcement. But the real security battle is a technology issue, and it will not be solved by all of the presidential commissions and all of the redeployments of intelligence -- of the intelligence community.
TOM BEARDEN: There are those who think the encryption genie is already out of the bottle, that the government's policy is ridiculous.
JERRY BERMAN: I don't want to say that -- characterize the government's policy as ridiculous, but the crypto-genie is out of the bottle, and they have to -- they are living with the fact that those products are available overseas. The danger is that it's going to allow foreign companies and foreign governments to deploy encryption, which is going to present more of a security problem for our government, then in the long run allowing our industry to control and make our network secure, and try and find the right balance between protecting privacy and protecting national security.