This post originally appeared on FEE.org on July 8th, 2015. Below is an excerpt.
In the early days, the Internet was thoroughly insecure; its governmental and academic users trusted each other, and the occasional student prank couldn’t cause much damage. As it started becoming available to everyone in the early ‘90s, people saw the huge opportunities it offered for commerce.
But doing business safely requires data security: If unauthorized parties can grab credit card numbers or issue fake orders, nobody is safe. However, the Clinton administration considered communication security a threat to national security.
Attorney General Janet Reno said, “Without encryption safeguards, all Americans will be endangered.” She didn’t mean that we needed the safeguard of encryption, but that we had to be protected from encryption.
In a 1996 executive order, President Clinton stated:
I have determined that the export of encryption products described in this section could harm national security and foreign policy interests even where comparable products are or appear to be available from sources outside the United States, and that facts and questions concerning the foreign availability of such encryption products cannot be made subject to public disclosure or judicial review without revealing or implicating classified information that could harm United States national security and foreign policy interests.”]
The government prohibited the export of strongly secure encryption technology by calling it a “munition.” Putting code on the Internet makes it available around the world, so the restriction crippled secure communication. The Department of Justice investigated Phil Zimmerman for three years for making a free email encryption program, PGP, available.”]
For the rest of the article head over to FEE.org.