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After all, this antique Chesapeake Bay town is famous for seafood, as well as sailing. Packs of Naval Academy cadets pass in front of me, enjoying crab cakes, oysters, and steamed clams. Their white hats look like dinner plates worn at a rakish angle.

So I slip my bank card into an automatic teller on West Street (laid out in 1696). Instantly, my request for $20 is beamed to Baltimore, where a bank computer realizes I'm an outsider. It throws my query to Dayton, Ohio. A computer "switch" in Dayton checks with my Washington-area bank, then tells Baltimore it's all right to give me money.

In 10 seconds, thanks to an electronic banking network, I have cash for a crab sandwich and a computer in Dayton knows I have skipped out of the office on a sunny, early spring afternoon.

Today, magic webs of computers are rapidly easing many of life's little tasks: getting cash, shopping, sending messages. But at the same time, these webs are hauling in vast amounts of personal data on Americans.

We must keep a careful eye on the rise of automatic banking, electronic mail, and other systems, say experts, if our privacy is to remain protected.

"As a byproduct of the evolution of technology, we are developing a network of surveillance capability," says Arthur Bushkin, who was in charge of President Carter's privacy initiativies, "although it's not out of any malicious intent."

The institutions that run computerized transaction networks all pledge to fiercely guard their customer's data. Yet gray areas in the law, say congressional aides and communications lawyers, may make these actions legal.

Your boss, spouse, or a credit agency could track your movements with the use of electronic banking records. No federal law bars banks from divulging this information to third parties.

If you use electronic mail, law-enforcement officers might be able to read your messages without a warrant. Search warrants are needed to open letters carried by the United States Postal Service.

Subscribers to two-way cable television may find that opinions they register are sold to, say, political parties, with their names attached. Currently, the only laws protecting two-way cable data are state statutes in Illinois, Wisconsin, California, and Connecticut.

Back at the dawn of the information age, when computers took up the floor space of a hockey rink, civil libertarians feared the coming of the Big Box-a giant computer compiling data on everyone in the U.S.

Instead, during the last 20 years little computers have learned to chatter back and forth, over communications links of unbelievable sophistication.

This gift of speech has made possible computer networks that today handle such tasks as reserving plane seats and approving checks. Decentralized, fast, hungry for data, these webs are far more than mere automated clerks, say those who follow privacy issues.

"More information is being maintained on individuals. It's being more centralized. It is more accessible and available," says Ron Plesser, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was counsel to the 1977 federal privacy commission.

Today, the computers that know the most about us are probably those that handle financial tasks: electronic tellers, credit-card checking machines, and check authorizers. Besides knowledge of how much money we have in the bank, these systems know where we are depositing our paycheck, or paying $150 for clothes-at the very moment we're conducting the transaction.

And money computers will be even more knowledgeable in the years ahead, as networks grow and combine to provide more services. Soon, for instance, American Express cardholders will be able to charge calls on specially equipped AT&T phones. eventually "debit" cards are expected to link banks and retailers by automatically siphoning cash from our accounts as we make purchases.

"The computer can develop a data base on your preferences: He likes to shop at this store, etc.," says Art Bushkin, now a telecommunications consultant. "It has time data. You can program it to behave preemptively: "The next time Bushkin appears within the computer's scope, print out a message for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].'"

Bank officials react indignantly when asked whether they might show this data to outsiders. Most financial institutions have explicit policies on protecting the privacy of their depositors.

But it is only the institutions' good will that guards these secrets, say privacy experts. The laws protecting financial records are very limited, they claim. If the federal government asks to see your bank files, the 1978 Right to Financial Privacy Act

requires that you be notified. If a private party asks for them, it's perfectly legal for the bank to hand over the data without saying a word.

And if you think such things never happen, remember that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in pursuit of the Watergate story for the Washington Post, found California lawyer Donald Segretti's credit card records to be a rich source of information.

A Congressional Office of Technology Assessment study concludes that the need "for more comprehensive electronic funds transfer privacy protection . . . are still largely unmet.'

If anything, there may be even less legal protection for message transmission systems such as electronic mail.

The electronic-mail business, long more promise than performance, is now shifting into second gear. Private firms did about $40 million worth of business last year, and in September MCI Communications launched its ambitious MCI Mail service. Yet these ethereal messages, which flit from computer screen to computer screen, are more vulnerable than old-fashioned letters in several respects.

For one thing, some clever users of home computers have managed to break into the networks. Last summer, a gang of Milwaukee teens repeatedly romped through GTE Corporation's Telenet system.

No law explicitly makes this illegal. "It's a very large gray area," says Walter Ulrich, a computer consultant and head of the Electronic Mail Association's privacy committee.

For another thing, both law officers and private third parties might be able to read your messages without your knowledge. MCI, GTE, and other electronic-mail companies all say they will staunchly defend their subscribers' privacy. No law, however, prevents them from voluntarily surrendering your mail.

"Chilling, isn't it?" says Mr. Ulrich.

But it is still another type of computerized network that may have the greatest potential for invading our privacy: two-way cable TV.

Such systems promise to bring a world of services into our family rooms, via color TV. Futurists have long predicted that we will eventually be able to bank, shop, and express our opinion over interactive cable channels.

If so, we will be entrusting cable companies with huge chunks of data about ourselves: buying and viewing habits, perhaps even political and social opinions.

"This sensitive personal information is a valuable commodity which cable companies can sell to . . . interested buyer in order to finance their corporate growth," charges John Shattuck, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

No federal statute covers the issue. Four states, however, have passed laws prohibiting cable firms from disseminating individualized data. Two more-New York and Maryland-are considering similar laws.

The industry is sensitive to the problem. Warner-Amex Cable, which operates the QUBE interactive system in seven cities, subscribes to privacy code that was the model for several of the state statutes.

Of course, all these systems-two-way cable, electronic mail, and electronic banking-promise great benefits. Privacy experts say they simply want to see laws prohibiting misuse of the networks.

And "we should leave things flexible enough for the people who will want to continue the old ways," such as paying cash for gas, adds Robert Smith, editor of Privacy Journal.

Washington seems only mildly interested in the impact of computer systems on privacy. The House judiciary subcommittee on civil liberties, headed by Rep. Robert Kastenmeier (D) of Wisconsin is holding a series of hearings on the issue. The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration no longer works extensively on privacy.

"Do we as a society accept this evolution [of technology] and its implications passively?" asks communications consultant Bushkin. "Or do we discuss it and decide whether we like the way it is?"

[From the Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 20, 1984]


(By Peter Grier)

RESTON, VA.-"DzX&N8s," says the secret message. “W@0yKlc:$* Sdfth"."

Lapsing into a daydream, I wonder what it could possibly mean: Does McTavish know about the letters of credit, and the carpet dealer in Rabat? If so, then Diane is in danger. Why did the Land Rover have to break down? Cairo will be furious... Larry Conner of Analytics Communications, breaking my reverie, points to the computer screen in front of us.

"This word here is my last name, actually," he says.

We are in a sunny conference room, not a cheap North African hotel. I am being shown Sherlock, a black box that scrambles computer data into dense cipher. It is to paper-and-pencil code what a nuclear submarine is to a dinghy.

"The only known attack is to guess the key," says Thomas Mitchell, and Analytics marketing manager. "There are 72 quadrillion possible keys."

Cryptography-the scence of secret communication-is entering a new age.

Gone are the romantic cipher machines of World War II, with their mysterious mechanisms; in their place are powerful microchips. And soon spies and diplomats may not be ciphering's main practitioners. As computer data becomes more valuable, cryptography is moving into the private sector.

"With electronic technology, you can have a much higher degree of security than with ordinary paper files in cabinets," claimed the late Ithiel de Soia Pool, a communications expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Take the Sherlock Information Security System. For $1,995, it drapes secrecy over information transmitted from one computer to another. Messages are unraveled with the aid of a “key," a 56-digit number, all Os and 1s, which reverses Sherlock's scrambling equations.

Other ciphering equipment on the open market range from the Encryptor, an accessor for home computers that costs a few hundred dollars, to the IBM 3848. For $58,670, the 3848 will encrypt just about anything.

"Say you've got one of our largest computers," says IBM spokesman Steve Carpenter, "and you wanted everything in it to be in ciphered. The 3848 could do it." Of course, machines that make communications secret, as if by magic, have long fascinated ingenious inventors.

In the mid-1400s, the Italian architect Leon Alberti perfected a cipher disk that was state-of-the-art technology for 400 years. Thomas Jefferson invented a "cypher wheel" which looked like a rolling pin and served the United States government for a century and a half.

By World War II, governments were encrypting with machines that resembled a cross between a typewriter and a music box. The machines, with such exotic names as "Purple" and "Enigma," used rotating electrified disks to scramble messages.

But with the rise of the digital computer, ENIGMA and its brothers were suddenly obsolete. Changing plain words into ciphertext is, at heart, a mathematical process; and computers do math so fast they produce cipher as tough as six-inch armor. Computer technology, in fact has reached the point where encryption equations now fit on a single microchip. The Data Encrytion Standard (DES), a ciphering algo rithm developed by the United States government is available on chips made by Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments, and many other makers.

These chips are the core of most private-sector encryption equipment. They do not produce impenetrable cipher, but just how much work it would take to uncover there secrets is a matter of some dispute.

A special state-of-the-art computer could crack open a DES-protected message in three days, according to a 1977 Stanford University study. The system's defenders claim such a computer is in fact wildly impractical, and that a more normal computer would need about 3,000 years to unravel a DES transmission.

In any case, DES provides enough protection for anyone short of a government, says Miles Smid, a mathematician with the US National Bureau of Standards. "They make use of both substitution and transposition [scrambling] encryption," Mr Smid says.

"By using both types, you get a very strong cipher."

So far, commerical encryption is not exactly a hot trend. Analysts estimate that US sales of cipher devices hover between $200-$300 million a year.

But as computer networks proliferate and more companies become aware of the value of their electronically-stored data, demand is likely to see a healthy upswing, say communications experts.

"Everyone agrees that the market for cryptography will grow in the next 10 years. What is not clear is how much and how fast," a study by the Harvard Center for Information Policy concludes.

Banks will perhaps be the best customers for the "cryptosystems." Their computers, after all, are electronic vaults that literally store money.

Already, most financial institutions have encryption in their automatic teller machines, to protect customers' access numbers. Electronic funds-transfer (EFT) systems, which shuttle some $500 billion between banks every day, aren't so well covered, since they're much more expensive to encrypt.

Howard Crumb, an assistant vice-president at the New York Federal Reserve, says only "parts" of banks' daily EFT transactions are in cipher.

"But I hear more and more talk about it, he says. "I see it coming on strong in late 1984. The catalyst was publicity about the 'hackers' who were breaking into computer systems last summer."

In the future, cryptology could also play a crucial role in protecting "information products' such as teletext and Home Box Office. The products would be broadcast in scrambled form; consumers would then purchase a key allowing them access to the data.

Many pay-TV channels already use such a system, points out Victor Walling of SRI International, a think tank in Menlo Park, Calif.

"The problem with a lot of these information products is that if you don't have a key to lock it up, you can't maintain rights to it," Mr. Walling says.

On the whole, however, Walling says there may not be a big private demand for cryptology, at least in the short-run.

"Somebody will have to do a D. B. Cooper with data, before people will really pay attention," he says, referring to the legendary hijacker who parachuted from a Boeing 727 with $200,000.

Meanwhile, science marches on. University researchers are hard at work on a new type of cipher that may make it even easier for businesses to transmit secret messages: "public key cryptology," or PKC.

Development at Standford and MIT, PKC uses two keys instead of one. The first can transform plain words into cipher, but can't decrypt the resulting message. The second, secret key is needed to unlock and read the transmission. Thus a subcontractor of a large oil company, by looking up the company's public key, could send it secret messages-but couldn't read the ciphered transmissions of a fellow subcon


In addition, PKC allows users to add a unique digital "signature" to their transmissions. Eventually, business executives may legally be able to sign contracts by computer, say cryptologists, and exchange certified electronic mail.

Ronald Rivest of MIT, a PKC pioneer, says a computer chip featuring the new cipher will be ready by this fall. It will work more slowly than current encrypting chips, he admits. It thus may be most useful for such smaller applications as protecting information on certain credit cards.

Early versions of PKC have proved vulnerable to cryptologic attack. In 1982, a young Israeli mathematician, Adi Shamir, cracked a Stanford PKC system with relative ease.

But the PKC co-authored by Dr. Rivest, which uses more complicated calculations, has so far remained inviolate.

[From the Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 23, 1984]


(By Peter Grier)

CAMBRIDGE, MA.-Congress in 1876 was in an uproar.

The results of that year's presidential election were the subject of bitter dispute. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden had finished in a virtual dead heat, with cries of fraud on both sides.

So legislators, to help settle the matter, decided to snoop on United States citizens via the latest in high technology-the telegraph. They simply ordered Western Union to turn over 30,000 telegrams from important political figures.

The press was aghast at this invasion of privacy. Western Union's president refused to comply. Congress arrested him and read the telegrams anyway.

No conclusive proof of fraud was found. But the incident shows that "high tech" surveillance is not just a phenomenon of the 20th century. Throughout US history, experts say, the protection of privacy has depended on a mix of factors: technology, politics, and corporate attitudes.

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"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.' Some clichés gain currency and stay around, because they reflect basic truths," says Anthony Oettinger, head of Harvard's Center for Information Policy.

Speaking with the steady rhythm of a UPI ticker, Dr. Oettinger leans forward to make his point. Outside, students scuttle across the Harvard Law School lawn.

The leader of a group whose sole purpose is studying the information_revolution, Oettinger has "the whole wired world in his hand," according to Harvard magazine. He analyzes some 80 businesses-from cable television to newsstands-for their impact on the flow of data in the US.

Microchip logic, tiny video eyes, and other new-tech gadgets could complicate efforts to shield privacy, he says. But he warns against focusing on the technology itself without scrutinizing society.

"There's no doubt some things are done more efficently with computers than with goose-quill pens. But I grew up in Europe in the '30s and '40s and saw many friends and relatives carted off by Germans using three-by-five cards,” he says. “It doesn't require a computer."

Oettinger is obviously irritated by suggestions that surveillance technology, once born, creates a momentum of its own and will be used for nefarious purposes.

"That's like saying, 'Technology made me do it,'" he says, hands waving. "It's an absurd abdication of responsibility. There is no substitute for a free people, an electorate, whatever, remaining responsible and in charge. I mean, you've got to watch the [offenders], whoever they are."

This does not mean that evil forces lurk just out of sight, ready to wrap the US in webs of surveillance the moment we let down our guard. Compared with both the fictional Oceania of George Orwell's "1984" and to many of today's totalitarian states, privacy in the US is well protected.

It does mean, Oettinger and other experts say, that we must watch for a step-bystep erosion of privacy by government agencies, corporations, and other institutions. The benefits of new high-tech activities-from the use of computers to detect welfare fraud, to banking with electronic tellers, to on-line criminal information systems-should be weighed against possible intrusive effects.

It's a balancing act," says Oettinger. "The balance is between privacy, an important value, and a lot of other things that we might want."

The US, since its founding, has officially prized privacy. The Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, for instance, guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and sei


But at the same time, US society professes administration for those who have nothing to hide, for men and women whose lives are an open book.

"There is a stress on privacy in the US, and at the same time there is a stress on openness. That helps create a tension, I think, between concealment and revelation," says Sissela Bok, author of the book "Secrets."

Mrs. Bok, a Swedish-born philosopher, is the wife of Harvard president. Derek Bok. Her father, economist Gunnar Myrdal, and her mother, peace activist Alva Myrdal, have both won Nobel Prizes.

Her elegant home is near Brattle Street in Cambridge. Outside the library, evening and a late-season snow are falling as she discusses privacy, technology, and


"With computers, we are in a whole new universe with respect to [protection of privacy]," she says. "In this universe we probably will have to recognize that there are a number of things that can't be exactly private."

The complexity of modern life, in other words, means that data we might prefer to keep private, such as bank balances and health records, won't be under our control.

And control, she says, is what privacy is all about—control over access to information we define as our personal domain. We thus good our sense of identity.

"We recoil from those who would tap our telephone, read our letters, bug our rooms," Mrs. Bok writes. "No matter how little we have to hide, no matter how benevolent their intentions, we take such intrusions to be demeaning."

When our privacy is invaded, someone or something shows power over us. "If we had no privacy at all, not even the capacity to protect it with secrets, we would be utterly vulnerable," she says.

But privacy for people is not the issue that most concerns Mrs. Bok. Instead, she expresses concern about government secrecy.

The Reagan administration, she feels, has tried hard to slam shut doors to much information. It has become more difficult to pry loose documents through the Freedom of Information Act, she says; Presidential Directive 84, withdrawn after being

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