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Overview Of Data Encryption And Legal Issues

2185 words - 9 pages

Overview of Data Encryption and Legal Issues

What is encryption and why do we need it?

The concept of encrypting information has been popular for hundreds of years. Revolutionaries, scientists, political activists and lovers have utilized this technique to maintain privacy and confidentiality in their communications. As kids, we would take our secret messages and shift the letters of the alphabet by a specific number to create an encrypted message. For example, by shifting the letters of the alphabet by three we could change the word cyberlaw to fbehuodz. In encryption, a message is referred to as plaintext before changing it in any way. Data encryption is the process whereby plaintext data is converted to ciphertext data. Ciphertext data can only be read by a party with a secret decryption key. A method for encrypting text is referred to as a cryptosystem. There are many uses for encryption today, particularly, with the widespread use of the Internet. Encryption is used to verify messages, validate and authenticate users and authorize transactions.

Banks use encryption to secure customer identification numbers at ATM machines.

All U.S. electronic funds transfer messages are encrypted. Online vendors depend upon the security of credit card transactions in conducting business. Many political groups use cryptography to protect the identity of online users. Internet users want electronic privacy; freedom from observance by the government or other parties. Anonymity is vital to both privacy and freedom of speech.

Potential Abuses of Encryption:

The U.S. Government is concerned with the abuse of this technology at the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile foreign governments. Encryption could impede their efforts to gather information and monitor the communications related to illegal enterprises.

It is believed that unbreakable cryptography could seriously hinder the efforts of law enforcement and threaten public safety.

Export Controls:

In 1988, The U.S. initiated export controls of encryption source code. The Arms Export Control Act regulates the exports of defense articles and services to promote world peace and security. Congress authorized the President to designate a list of defense articles to be restricted from export. The U.S. State Department included cryptographic systems, equipment, assemblies, modules integrated circuits, components or software capable of maintaining secrecy or confidentiality of information or information systems as defense articles. This has restricted distribution of dangerous technologies to assure that encryption programs are not available to criminals and governments overseas.


The key to a cryptosystem is a specific value that converts the plaintext to ciphertext and allows the ciphertext to be transformed back into plaintext. Popular techniques depend upon both the sender and receiver having knowledge of the secret key. This technique is known as secret key or...

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