CFP'94 - Summary
John Marshall Law School, March 23-26, 1994 in Chicago, IL.
From: Lorrie Cranor
The following is my second annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference report. Last year I wrote a report on CFP93 for my advisor and friends and soon had requests to distribute it around the world (followed by rebuttals from half the EFF board). So this year I'll go ahead and grant permission for reposting in advance. If you do repost or if you have any comments or corrections, please let me know. I have tried my best to accurately quote people and get the spelling of speakers' names right. However, I have not had the opportunity to listen to a tape of the proceedings, double check with the speakers themselves, or even carefully edit this report, so there may be some (hopefully minor) errors. Anyway, here is the CFP94 conference as I experienced it. All unattributed opinions are my own.
I flew into Chicago around noon on March 23 and took the train to the Palmer House Hilton, the conference hotel. I was impressed with the way the train stopped almost right at the hotel entrance -- until I realized that my room was almost directly above the train station. At CFP93 last year I was often tempted to skip a session, enjoy the sunshine, and walk along the bay. However, at CFP94, held in a high rise hotel in the middle of a maze of very tall buildings and elevated train tracks that prevented all but the most determined sun beams from making their way down to street level, this was not a temptation.
I missed the morning pre-conference tutorials, but arrived in time to attend a three-hour afternoon tutorial session at the John Marshall Law School (a few blocks away from the conference hotel). The election tutorial I had planned on attending was canceled, so I went to a tutorial on cryptography instead. Despite the hot stuffy air in the room (as they wheeled in auxiliary air conditioners and draped air hoses around the room the people from Chicago kept explaining that it wasn't supposed to be 75 degrees in Chicago in March and that very tall buildings don't adapt well to temperature change), the cryptography tutorial was quite interesting and informative. Lawyer Mark Hellmann gave some good background information in his introduction, but Matt Blaze of AT&T Bell Labs stole the show with his presentation titled "Everything you need to know about cryptography in just 60 easy minutes." Blaze explained why cryptography is useful/necessary, how some popular cryptosystems work, some applications in which cryptography is used, and questions people should ask before using a cryptosystem. His conclusion was "Be realistic, but be paranoid." Douglas Engert of Argonne National Laboratory followed with a rather rushed and confusing explanation and demonstration of Kerberos, a "practical implementation of encryption."
Conference chair George Trubow officially opened the single-track conference at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. He announced some changes to the conference program and introduced John McMullen, scholarship chair. McMullen introduced the scholarship recipients (including myself) and noted that three-time scholarship winner Phiber Optik would not be in attendance because he is currently in jail.
The keynote address, originally scheduled to be delivered by John Podesta, was delivered by David Lytel of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lytel first spoke about the administration's plans for the National Information Infrastructure (NII), explaining that the white house was attempting to lead by example by accepting email correspondence (and maybe soon actually responding to it properly) and making white house publications available electronically. (Look for a "welcome to the white house" WWW server sometime soon. Information from the II task force is currently available via gopher from iitf.doc.gov.) Lytel then put himself in the line of fire by discussing the administration's encryption policy. He stated the goals of this policy as 1) to provide a higher baseline security for everyone and 2) to maintain the ability to do wiretaps. Notably, he stated: "There will be no restrictions on domestic use of encryption," and "If you don't think Clipper is secure, don't use it." Then the bombing began. In the following Q&A session, Lytel claimed ignorance on many points of the Clipper proposal, but did make some interesting claims. He stated that (here I've paraphrased):
- Clipper will be a government procurement standard that agencies may
choose to use in addition to other standards.
- The establishment of a public key registration system for all public
key cryptosystems is important (this has not been officially proposed).
- Clipper-encrypted messages may be further encrypted with another
cryptosystem. However, messages may not be encrypted before being
encrypted with Clipper.
- The public is more at risk from criminal activity (which Clipper may be
able to prevent) than from government abuse of power.
- Clipper was designed by the government for it's own use. But they
wouldn't mind if it becomes popularized as a commercial product.
- Clipper was only designed to catch "dumb criminals."
- Clipper does not make it easier or harder for law enforcement to get permission to do a wire tap.
Thursday's lunch (all lunches and dinners were included in the price of admission) was the first of many really bad meals served at CFP. I requested vegetarian meals and winded up eating plate after plate of steamed squash. My meat-eating friends claimed not to enjoy their meals either. Fortunately the lunch speaker was much better than the lunch itself. David Flaherty, Canada's Information and Privacy Commissioner, explained what his job entails and gave some interesting examples of privacy cases he has worked on.
The first panel discussion after lunch was titled "Is it Time for a U.S. Data Protection Agency?" The panelists agreed that with all the information currently being collected about people, it is time for the U.S. to institute an organization to help protect privacy. Currently, litigation is the only way to force compliance with the "patchwork" of privacy laws in the U.S. However, the panelists disagreed on what form a privacy protection organization should take. The most concrete proposal came from Khristina Zahorik, a congressional staffer who works for Senator Paul Simon. Simon recently introduced legislation to form a five-member independent privacy commission. Martin Abrams of TRW objected to the formation of a commission, but supported the formation of a "fair information office." Law professor Paul Schwartz then discussed the European draft directive on data protection and stated that once the Europeans approve this directive the U.S. will have difficulty doing business with Europe unless a U.S. data protection board is formed.
In the next panel discussion, "Owning and Operating the NII: Who, How, and When?" Mark Rotenberg of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) played talk show host as he questioned four panelists. The panelists stressed the importance of universal access and privacy for the NII. Barbara Simons, chair of ACM's new public policy committee USACM, was particularly concerned that the NII would be viewed as an electronic democracy even though large segments of the U.S. population would be unlikely to have access to it. "I worry that when people talk about electronic democracy they might be serious," she said. She added that NII discussions are exposing all of the major problems with our society including poverty and poor education. Her comments were interrupted by a call to the podium phone, which turned out to be a wrong number. Jamie Love of the Taxpayer Assets Project pointed out problems that could occur if NII providers do not have flat rate fees. For example, listservers, which are often used as organizational and community-building tools, would not be able to exist unless somebody volunteered to pick up the tab. Somebody from the audience pointed out that throughout the day panelists had been opposing plans for carrying entertainment on the NII, despite the fact that most Americans want entertainment, especially shows like Beavis and Butthead. Love explained that the panelists were not opposing entertainment plans, just plans that only include entertainment. He noted, "I personally like to watch Beavis and Butthead."
After the panel discussion, conference organizers scurried to hook up a teleconference with Senator Patrick Leahy, author of the 1986 Electronic Privacy Act. Jerry Berman acted as moderator, speaking to Leahy through the podium phone as audience members watched and listened to Leahy on a projection TV. The teleconference began with some technical difficulties during which the audience could see Leahy, but only Berman could hear him. Berman reported this problem to Leahy and then told the audience, "Senator Leahy may hold his speech up in front of his face." Once the technical difficulties had been worked out, Leahy discussed the NII and problems with the Clipper proposal.
The final panel discussion of the day was titled, "Data Encryption: Who Holds the Keys?" The discussion began with a presentation from Professor George Davida, whose 1970s crypto research brought him some unwanted attention from the National Security Agency (NSA). Davida explained the importance of cryptography for both privacy and authentication. The Clipper proposal, he said, was a bad idea because it would attempt to escrow privacy. He pointed out that the bad guys have a lot of money to hire hackers to write encryption schemes for them that the government does not hold the keys to. Furthermore, he opposed the idea of the NSA being responsible for an encryption scheme that many people would use to guard their privacy. "Asking the NSA to guarantee privacy is kind of like asking Playboy to guard chastity belts," he explained. Next, Stewart Baker of the NSA took the podium to deliver an ultra-slick presentation on the "Seven Myths about Key Escrow Encryption." His main points (here paraphrased) were:
- If you think key escrow encryption will create a "brave new world" of
governmental intrusion, ask yourself how bad governmental intrusion
is today. If won't be any worse with key escrow encryption.
- If you think unreadable encryption is the key to our future liberty,
you should be aware that the beneficiaries of unreadable encryption
are going to be bad guys.
- If you think key escrow encryption will never work because crooks
won't use it if it's voluntary and therefore there must be a secret
plan to make key escrow encryption mandatory, you're wrong.
- If you think the government is interfering with the free market by
forcing key escrow on the private sector, remember that nobody is
forcing the private sector to use Clipper.
- If you think the NSA is a spy agency and thus has no business worrying about domestic encryption policy, you should realize that the NSA also designs encryption technology for government use.
The encryption panel was followed by the annual EFF awards reception and the conference banquet. (Incidentally, I can't complain about the EFF board the way I did last year because most board members were not present this year. Seriously, though, I have been much more impressed with the way EFF has been reaching out to its members this year.) During dinner (more squash) Ben Masel of NORML lectured my table on how to legally harvest marijuana. After dinner, the lights dimmed, choir music played, and Simon Davies walked through the banquet hall garbed in pontifical robes. The founder and Director General of Privacy International, Davies told the audience he would read from "The Book of Unix." Davies read a witty parable about privacy in the U.S. and then urged the audience to "get off their computer screens and start lobbying ordinary people." He said efforts like CPSR's anti-Clipper petition only reach people on the net, not the general public. Unless the public becomes aware of privacy problems, there will be no privacy in the U.S. within 15 years he stated.
Following Davies' talk, conference participants went to Birds-of-a-Feather sessions, some of which ran until almost midnight. I stopped by a BOF for scholarship winners before attending a lively discussion on "Censorship of Computer-Generated Fictional Interactivity."
The second day of the conference began at 9 a.m. Many participants had not gotten enough sleep the night before, and many skipped the first session on health information policy. Congressional staffer Bob Gellman discussed a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide for comprehensive rules for using health information, patient rights for access to and correction of their health information, and security of health data. He said the bill was important because health reform will increase the use of medical information. (The bill is available via gopher from cpsr.org. An OTA report on privacy of computerized medical information is available via FTP from ota.gov.) Janlori Goldman of the ACLU added that privacy has been an afterthought in health care reform proposals. All panelists agreed that if the privacy problem is not dealt with, patients will withhold important information from their doctors so that it does not appear in their medical records. In response to a question from the audience about the use of social security numbers as medical identification numbers, the panelists gave conflicting responses. Goldman opposed the use of the SSN for identification purposes because it is not a unique identifier and because it is already used for other purposes and thus easy to cross reference. However, Gellman argued that if a new identification number is introduced, it will soon have the same problems as the SSN. He said the SSN should be used, but there should be restrictions on its use. Lee Ledbetter of HDX added that most databases can do cross references based on telephone numbers. The panelists also discussed the problem of informed consent. Gellman explained that people often sign away privacy rights through informed consent because they think they have to, not because they really are informed or consenting.
The next panel was titled, "Can Market Mechanisms Protect Consumer Privacy?" This discussion, which centered around whether privacy is a right or good, was probably most easily understood by the lawyers and economists (I am neither) in the audience. Of note, panelist Eli Noam suggested that consumers could reduce intrusion on their privacy by telemarketers if telemarketers could only reach them through personal 900 numbers. Mark Rotenberg explained that the real problem with caller ID is that the phone companies use it to sell rights to consumers. One audience member challenged a panelist's proposal that people should own the information about themselves asking, "Who owns your birthday -- you or your mother?"
The lunch lecture was eloquently delivered by Phil Zimmermann, author of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), a public key encryption tool. Zimmermann, who is being investigated for export control violations but has not been indicted, told the audience that the future of privacy in America is not hopeless. Referring to the Clipper proposal he said, "We live in a democracy here... we ought to be able to stop it." Zimmermann explained why he developed PGP and allows it to be distributed free of charge. He also spoke out against the fact that all public key cryptography patents are in the hands of one company (thus those who use PGP without licensing the cryptographic algorithm may be breaking the law).
The next panel discussion focused on "Creating an Ethical Community in Cyberspace." Computer science professor Martin van Swaay began by explaining the importance of trust in a free society. "Freedom is not the absence of restraint, but the presence of self restraint," he stated. He said freedom is necessary to earn trust, and trust is necessary to give laws meaning. Philosophy professor Bruce Umbaugh then discussed anonymity and pseudonymity in cyberspace. He gave some examples of cases where pseudonymity is useful but anonymity is not and explained why anonymity is much more of a threat than pseudonymity. Steven Levy, author of Hackers, then discussed the hacker ethic and how it is helping to shape cyberspace. In response to a question, van Swaay said he reserves the right to ignore anonymous messages because, "If you have something real to say, why do you want to hide? And if you want to hide, it makes me wonder why."
Most non-computer-scientists skipped the next panel discussion, "Standards for Certifying Computer Professionals." However, among computer scientists, the panel was quite controversial. Professor Donald Gotterbarn explained that both ACM and IEEE are considering licensing proposals. He discussed one proposal that would impose mandatory licensing on computer professionals. The proposal called for various levels of licensing, based on skill and areas of competence. Attorney Steve Barber explained some of the problems with a licensing model, including the fact that licensing is usually handled by the states and thus varies from state to state. John Marciniak of CTA Inc. stated that the computer industry does not need licensing because the companies, not the programmers, stand behind their products. He suggested that a voluntary certification program be considered instead. Another panelist (whose name was not in the program) insisted that "when a B777 [a plane with completely computerized controls] goes down, we will have licensing." He suggested that computer professionals come to a consensus about what kind of licensing they want so that they can tell congress when congress demands licensing. Gotterbarn urged people interested in working on a licensing proposal to contact him at email@example.com.
The final panel of the day, "Hackers and Crackers: Using and Abusing the Networks," was led by Emmanuel Goldstein, publisher of 2600 magazine. Goldstein hung a sign reading "hackers" on the table where the four other panelists sat. He hung a sign reading "crackers" on an empty table at the opposite side of the podium. "One thing that distinguishes hackers from crackers is that hackers are here and crackers are not," said Goldstein. After rattling off several other differences he looked under the empty table and retrieved three boxes of crackers (the edible kind). "Alright I stand corrected," he quipped. As Goldstein spoke admiringly about hackers and their quest for knowledge, several audience members were mumbling that they didn't understand. Goldstein then unveiled a large photograph of hacker Phiber Optik and played a taped message that Phiber recorded from prison. Panelist Bruce Fancher of Mindvox said he used to think there was no problem with breaking into other peoples' computer systems. "I think my opinion changed when I started running a public access Internet site....[I discovered that a breakin] wasn't that charming." He encouraged hackers to explore and learn about computer systems, but urged them not to break into other peoples' systems. Panelist Robert Steele described hacking as "elegance." He explained, "Hacking is doing it better than it has ever been done before," no matter what "it" is. He added that hackers should not be blamed for breaking into systems because most systems are wide open to attack. "Ethics is nice. Engineering is better," he stated. Panelist Bob Strantton of UUNET discussed the need for an electronic "place" people can go to learn things without disrupting the work of others. During the Q&A session Goldstein illustrated how unsecure computer and telecommunication systems are by picking up a cellular phone call on a hand-held scanner, much to the amazement of some audience members.
The day's program concluded with a dinner reception at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The food was tasty (finally a decent meal) and the museum exhibits were both educational and enjoyable.
The final day of the conference began with a 9 a.m. panel on "The Role of Libraries on the Information Superhighway." Carl Kadie, editor of Computers and Academic Freedom News, described several cases in which he had turned to library policies when recommending solutions to computers and academic freedom problems. Kadie explained that libraries have adopted policies that protect free speech and free access to information. Next Bernard Margolis, director of Pikes Peak Library District discussed the roles of libraries on the information superhighway, describing libraries as on ramps, filling stations, and driver training schools. He also noted that as electronic resources have been added to the Pikes Peak libraries, the demand for traditional resources has not decreased. Elaine Albright of the University of Maine library described some of the issues related to electronic information delivery currently being discussed by librarians. A pamphlet discussing these issues is available from the American Library Association by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next panel, "International Governance of Cyberspace: New Wine in Old Bottles -- Or is it Time for New Bottles?" was another discussion for the lawyers in attendance. I got lost in the legal jargon as panelist discussed whether cyberspace has sovereignty and what sort of laws could be practically enforced there. Panelist Herbert Burkett described the net as "the greatest threat to national sovereignty since the opening of the first McDonalds in Paris." In the Q&A period, cypherpunk Eric Hughes put the whole conversation in perspective (for me at least) when, referring to people who use cryptography to hide their identities, he asked "How is national sovereignty going to have any effect if you can't find us?"
The final conference lunch featured more squash and short presentations from three of the student paper competition winners (the fourth winner, a student from the computers and society course I taught last semester, was not able to attend the conference).
The first panel after lunch discussed "The Electronic Republic: Delivery of Government Services over the Information Superhighway." This was an interesting, but relatively low bandwidth session about how governments can use information technology to collect and disseminate information. Panelists from information "kiosk" vendors had nothing but praise for pilot projects in several states. However, Jeff Arnold of the Cook County circuit court raised a number of concerns about allowing the public to access computerized court records. In particular he was concerned about people who want to use court records to generate advertising mailing lists (a list of recent divorcees or traffic offenders for example) and liability for incorrect information.
The next panel, "Education and NREN, K-12" was quite interesting, but not well attended. (By this time most conference participants were networking in the hallway outside the main conference room.) The panelists generally agreed that most schools are organized in a way that is not reflected in the organization of the Internet. Panelist Steve Hodas explained that schools are usually organized into tidy departments and that information flows mostly in one direction (from book to student). In addition schools generally regard the absence of censorship as a system failure. The Internet, on the other hand, is not tidy, allows a two-way flow of information, and views censorship as a system failure. Hodas warned, as people rush in to protect schools from the net, "we must remember to protect the net from the schools." Panelist Philip Agre added, "American democracy is suffering, in part because of educational practices." Janet Murray, a school librarian, gave a humorous presentation in which she emphasized the importance of freedom of access to information. "If you're worried about what students can access on the Internet, think about what else they have access to," she said as she displayed slides of racy material found in popular news publications.
The final CFP94 session was titled "Guarding the Digital Persona." The panelists first discussed the problem of too much personal information finding its way into the hands of direct marketers. Possible solutions discussed included requiring yellow-page style advertising and creating a new legal fiction -- an electronic person with the right to own money, communicate electronically, and not be arbitrarily deleted. The legal fiction suggestion was motivated by the idea that it would be impossible to create useful profiles of people if all the information about them was compartmentalized and each compartment had a separate identity. This idea seemed to be bordering on science fiction, and thus the final speaker, science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, seemed an appropriate choice to bat cleanup.
I had considered writing an abstract for this lengthy report, but I don't think I could do as good a job as Sterling did in his remarks. I have read some of Sterling's books, but this was the first time I have heard him speak. I must say, the man can speak as well as he writes, and he writes pretty darned well. Sterling began his talk by stating his general lack of concern about privacy. "Being afraid of monolithic organizations, especially when they have computers, is like being afraid of really big gorillas, especially when they are on fire," he explained. "How can privacy abuses be kept a secret?" He then proceeded to describe what he will remember about CFP94. He characterized this conference (the fourth CFP) as "the darkest CFP by far." Referring to the administration's proposed encryption policy he stated, "I see nothing but confrontation ahead." Sterling reminded the audience of David Lytel's unsettling key note address ("Who was briefing that guy?") and Stewart Baker and the seven myths that the NSA wants you to believe are not true ("a tone of intolerable arrogance"). And he mentioned Dorothy Denning, one of the few Clipper supporters in the computer science community. Denning was not in attendance this year, but she was worth mentioning because she was certainly present in spirit. Read the talk yourself if you see it posted on the net.
I think Sterling identified what was on the minds of most conference attendees. While some attendees were extremely concerned about their privacy, most had never really considered that they had anything to hide, or even anything that anyone else really wanted to know. And yet, almost everyone was bothered by the Clipper proposal and the fact that it would treat them as if they had something to hide. Last year's conference was much more animated and controversial. People were constantly complaining that there wasn't enough time for all views to be heard. This year there was much more harmony; but it was a dark harmony. The disagreements among panelists seemed relatively insignificant when compared to the disagreement between the people and their government.
Epilogue: As I rode the train out to the airport, I noticed an advertisement for the Chicago Sun-Times "Social Security Sweepstakes." It seems the Sun-Times is asking people to send in their names and social security numbers for a chance to win a trip to Hawaii. Is this informed consent?
- Lorrie Faith Cranor (
- March 27, 1994
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