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August 20, 1999
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center
(EPIC) today warned that a new Clinton Administration proposal
could result in an unprecedented intrusion into the sanctity of
private homes and businesses.  The White House plan would enable
federal and local law enforcement agents to secretly break into
private premises and alter computer equipment to collect e-mail
messages and other electronic information.
As the Washington Post reported today, the administration is
circulating draft legislation known as the "Cyberspace
Electronic Security Act," the latest White House effort to
address the growing use of encryption technology.  As described
in an August 4 analysis of the legislation obtained by EPIC, the
proposal would amend current law to authorize "the alteration of
hardware or software that allows plaintext to be obtained even
if attempts were made to protect it through encryption."  Courts
would, for the first time, be able to approve covert police
entries into homes and offices for the purposes of making such
"This strikes at the heart of the Bill of Rights," said David L.
Sobel, EPIC's General Counsel.  "It would be truly ironic if the
use of encryption -- which is designed to protect privacy --
gave the police a green light to secretly break into homes."
Surreptitious physical entries are extremely rare under existing
surveillance laws.  Such entries are only made in order to
install hidden microphones, an investigative technique approved
only 50 times by federal and state judges last year.  According
to Sobel, "extending this extraordinary power to cases involving
computer files would make police break-ins far more common than
they are today."
The latest administration proposal on computer surveillance
comes on the heels of the "FIDNET" initiative, a planned
government program that would monitor activity within both
federal and private sector computer networks.  When the details
of that proposal became widely known earlier this month, it met
with strong criticism from privacy groups (including EPIC) and
members of Congress.
EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It
was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging
civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First
Amendment, and constitutional values. EPIC is a project of the
Fund for Constitutional Government. EPIC works in association
with Privacy International, an international human rights group
based in London, UK and is also a member of the Global Internet
Liberty Campaign, the Internet Free Expression Alliance and the
Internet Privacy Coalition.
The EPIC website is located at http://www.epic.org
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