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Book details of 'Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption'

Cover of Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption
TitlePrivacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption
Author(s)Whitfield Diffie, Susan Landau
PublishedJanuary 1998
PublisherMIT Press
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The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption':

Reviewer wrote:
There was a time when cryptography--the making and breaking of secret codes--was of interest only to spies, diplomats, and the occasional eccentric. Those days are over, and the reason, as Diffie and Landau explain, is that secret codes have become the key to preserving traditional notions of privacy at a time when technology is rapidly altering the nature of human communication. When the vast majority of conversations happened face to face, keeping them private was a simple matter of stepping away from the listening crowd. But the growing number of conversations that take place over easy-to-intercept phone lines and e-mail channels requires more sophisticated safeguards. Above all, it requires online encryption tools of the highest grade, and this book does a good job of explaining how these tools work, both in principle and in practice. It does a better job, though, of explaining why the tools matter. The intense political battles that have surrounded digital cryptography in recent years are a testament to the profound political implications of privacy in the online era, and Diffie and Landau have delivered an admirably thorough overview of both the struggles and the stakes. If at times their thoroughness bogs them down in dry recitations of detail, their book at least generates more light than heat, and that can hardly be said of most contributions to the cryptography debate so far. --Julian Dibbell --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
This seems to be the year for privacy. Hard on the heels of "Technology and Privacy" (see reviews), "The Electronic Privacy Papers" (see reviews), and the related "Borders in Cyberspace" (see reviews) comes this volume. Given the emotional content with which the encryption debate has been loaded in recent years, it is important that the introduction, in chapter one, is a neutral and even-handed look at the background of the discussion, presenting the issues on both sides, although little of the case for either. Specific references may be from the United States, but the arguments made are generic enough to be considered by all audiences. Chapter two gives an overview of cryptography, which is, of course, excellent. Not only does it explain the importance of keys and cryptographic strength, but it also gives insightful analysis into business and social factors in the development of the field. Cryptography and public policy, in chapter three, is restricted to developments within (and related to) the US, but looks at all types of issues, both technical and not. Chapter four discusses national security with a quick but clear and thorough overview of the various aspects of intelligence gathering, particularly communications intelligence. There is also brief mention of information warfare. Much of the heat in the current debate about encryption restrictions involves law enforcement. (References are frequently made to drug and child pornography rings.) Therefore, the brevity of chapter five is disappointing. The content, however, is not. It builds a solid framework for the topic, and notes an instructive difference in effectiveness between wiretaps and other electronic bugs. Chapter six is again specific to US history, reviewing activities both in support, and destructive, of privacy. Chapter seven deals specifically with wiretapping technology, activities, and legality in the US. Much of the material in the chapter has been at least touched on previously, and there is noticeable duplication. There is less duplication in chapter eight's discussion of the current communications scene, although little new material. The same is not the case with current cryptography in chapter nine, providing brief backgrounds of the myriad efforts being made to disseminate and suppress encryption capabilities. The conclusion, in chapter ten, seems to come down on the side of opening encryption development and distribution. An extensive, possibly exhaustive, bibliography is a major resource in the book. The thorough research, even tone, and informed analysis make this work an excellent foundation for discussion. It does not, however, provide much in the way of direction. That the authors should tend to support the dropping of restrictions on cryptography is not surprising, but such support is neither strong nor impassioned. copyright Robert M. Slade, 1998

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Book description:

"This engagingly written account provides the necessary historical context and technical know-how to understand the 1990s battle over computer encryption, in which Diffie is probably the nation's best-informed expert." -- Privacy Journal Telecommunication has never been perfectly secure, as a Cold War culture of wiretaps and international spying taught us. Yet many of us still take our privacy for granted, even as we become more reliant than ever on telephones, computer networks, and electronic transactions of all kinds. So many of our relationships now use telecommunication as the primary mode of communication that the security of these transactions has become a source of wide public concern and debate. Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau argue that if we are to retain the privacy that characterized face-to-face relationships in the past, we must build the means of protecting that privacy into our communication systems. This has not proved simple, however. The development of such protection has been delayed--and may be prevented--by powerful elements of society that intercept communications in the name of protecting public safety. Intelligence and law-enforcement agencies see the availability of strong cryptography as a threat to their functions. The U.S. government has used export control to limit the availability of cryptography within the United States, and bills introduced in Congress in 1997 would place legal restrictions on essential elements of any secure communications system. These policies attempt to limit encryption to forms that provide a "back door" for government wiretapping. Diffie and Landau strip away the hype surrounding the policy debate to examine the national security, law enforcement, commercial, and civil liberties issues. They discuss the social function of privacy, how it underlies a democratic society, and what happens when it is lost. They also explore the workings of intelligence and law enforcement organizations, how they intercept communications, and how they use what they intercept. More information is available at our book-of-the-month site.

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