FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 20, 1999 NEW WHITE HOUSE COMPUTER SURVEILLANCE PLAN WOULD POSE UNPRECEDENTED THREAT TO PRIVACY 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 alterations. "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 - 30 - .