Book details of 'Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption'
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The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption':
Reviewer amazon.com 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"
) 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 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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