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Situation ethics in action

July 1, 1993

Situation ethics in action

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Back in 1997, an article titled “Keep Big Brother’s Hands Off the Internet” was written by a member of Congress.

The article stated as follows: “The Clinton administration would like the federal government to have the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode, digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail, and proprietary information sent abroad—all in the name of national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications.

“This proposed policy raises obvious concerns about Americans’ privacy, in addition to tampering with the competitive advantage that our U.S. software companies currently enjoy in the field of encryption technology. Not only would Big Brother be looming over the shoulders of international cyber-surfers, but the administration threatens to render our state-of-the-art computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.

“There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes with unlimited wiretaps. Why then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

“The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.”

Stirring words, eh? Powerful warning of the evil of unrestrained power. The congressman who wrote them was none other than that champion of civil liberties, John Ashcroft, our attorney general.

What a difference a few months made.

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