We used to regulate cryptography as munitions. Let's get back to that.

Photo by Marc Nozell on Flickr

Barack Obama’s FBI head James Comey has started a push for regulation of cryptography in America, in a throwback to the days of the Bill Clinton administration’s “Clipper Chip’ program. Hillary Clinton has fully embraced this idea, suggesting a legally required “back door” in all software in America.


This is a problem for any American who wants to secure his own privacy, both against the US government, and against foreign powers. We used to regulate cryptography like a munition. Maybe we should get back to that, and embrace a right to keep and bear cryptography.

Photo by Marc Nozell on Flickr
Photo by Marc Nozell on Flickr

The First Amendment of course made it difficult-to-impossible to ban math in America, which is what it would take to impose full on cryptography control. However for years the US Government regulated the export of cryptography software like a piece of military hardware, requiring a burdensome licensing regime, and requiring a restriction on what countries could access the software.

That cryptography restriction threatened to cripple American software developers, so fortunately the nanny statists of the Clinton administration (including Al Gore and Hillary Clinton) were defeated and we effectively ended the regulation of cryptography in America.

But Obama, Comey, and Clinton want to change that. Clinton is too cowardly to put it on her issues page, but she owned up to it in the most recent debate:

And maybe the back door is the wrong door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that. But I also understand, when a law enforcement official charged with the responsibility of preventing attacks — to go back to our early questions, how do we prevent attacks — well, if we can’t know what someone is planning, we are going to have to rely on the neighbor or, you know, the member of the mosque or the teacher, somebody to see something.


Maybe a back door is wrong, she says. The issue here is that firms like Apple are starting to give their customers the option of using strong cryptography, and the tools to keep communications secure against governments (both foreign and domestic) are becoming easier to use. So Clinton and Comey want to ban that, and require that government have the means to read all of it, at will.

Against this threat, it occurs to me that we should regulate cryptography the way we regulate guns domestically. That is, let’s admit there’s a Constitutional right to use it, and shut down code control the way we’re getting good at shutting down gun control in this country.

Regulation of luggage locks means any unionized busybody at the TSA, or someone with the means to duplicate their lock backdoor, can fiddle with your stuff. We can’t afford to have bank records, emails, and other communications vulnerable in the same way. Not after what we saw at IRS.


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