Encryption backers brace for new threats

Tuesday, 1 April 2003, 10:44 AM EST

Such a measure, they worry, might also discourage human rights workers in, say, Sri Lanka from encrypting the names and addresses of their confidants, in case they fall into the wrong hands.

Draft legislation circulating in the Justice Department would extend prison sentences for scrambling data in the commission of a crime, something encryption advocates fear would achieve little in catching terrorists -- and only hurt legitimate uses of cryptography.

"Why should the fact that you use encryption have anything to do with how guilty you are and what the punishment should be?" asks Stanton McCandlish of the CryptoRights Foundation, which teaches human rights workers to use encryption. "Should we have enhanced penalties because someone wore an overcoat?"

Such law enforcement tools sought after the September 11 attacks are expected to be among top discussion items at the annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, that begins Wednesday in New York.

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