NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Seeks To Enter Homes And Alter Computers

August 24, 1999

The Justice Department is about to ask Congress to grant it authority to secretly enter homes and offices in order to disable encryption software on computers. Department officials say such authority is needed to fight criminal activity -- "such as drug trafficking, terrorism, white-collar crime, and the distribution of child pornography," according to an administration memo.

  • Draft legislation, called the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act, would enable investigators to get a sealed warrant signed by a judge, permitting them to enter private property, search through computers for passwords and install devices that override encryption programs.
  • Although Justice officials claim their proposals is "consistent with Constitutional principles," the idea has alarmed civil libertarians and members of Congress.
  • Privacy advocates warn that the number of police break-ins would soar if the proposal is adopted because personal computers offer tantalizing sources of evidence for investigators -- including memos, diaries, e-mail, bank records and a wealth of other data.
  • In a snub to the administration, more than 250 members of Congress have cosponsored legislation that would prohibit the government from mandating that computer systems must have "back doors" that would enable investigators to sidestep encryption.

Source Robert O'Harrow Jr., "Encryption Battle Enters Home, Office," Washington Post, August 20, 1999.


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