Luncheon speaker: Whitfield Diffie

by Alexandre Alvarez


After the recent relaxation of export controls by the U.S. Government, one may be led to believe that threats to privacy are over and the dangers of a world without privacy have finally been acknowledged (implicitly, if not explicitly) by policy makers. The fact is, as the use of crypto grows in different domains the whole scenario is being silently transformed by the appearance of new players, the change of strategy by old rivals, and a growing number of threats to both freedom and privacy. The arena -- once dominated by the government, privacy advocates, researchers and industry -- has seen the appearance of new stakeholders such as the copyright industry, net filtering and monitoring software producers, consumers, and others.

As well, new conflicts do not fit easily in the traditional opposition scheme. On the Governments vs. Privacy Advocates side, the tactics seem to have changed: instead of outlawing cryptography it now seems pressure will move to outlawing (or at the very least, rendering ineffective) it's use, proceeding on a case by case basis. The U.K. RIP Bill, for example, would make it illegal for an individual to refuse to provide a decryption key to an authorized law enforcement officer. The civil liberties/crypto communities have responded with strong opposition and a revived interest in steganography.

On the Corporations vs. Consumers side, we now have issues on illegal reverse engineering, illegal trafficking of decryption technology, Intellectual Property and Copyright theft, and expected problems with the DMCA and UCITA. The list of potential problems include artificially "strong" cryptography, impediments to the research and development of new algorithms, and the impossibility to verify how securely protected is your data. How this issues are resolved will have a tremendous impact on the future of civil liberties on the net.

Dr. Whitfield Diffie, often referred to as the father of public key cryptography, has been a leading participant in the debate on national security and privacy protection. At Friday's lunchtime talk he will discuss the changing dynamics of cryptography and privacy debates around the world.