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An Open Letter to the Internet Engineering Task Force

November 8, 1999

IETF Secretariat
c/o Corporation for National Research Initiatives
1895 Preston White Drive, Suite 100
Reston, VA, USA 20191-5434
+1 703 620 9071 (fax)

Dear IETF Members,

We are writing to urge the IETF not to adopt new protocols or modify existing protocols to facilitate eavesdropping. Based on our expertise in the fields of computer security, cryptography, law, and policy, we believe that such a development would harm network security, result in more illegal activities, diminish users' privacy, stifle innovation, and impose significant costs on developers of communications. At the same time, it is likely that Internet surveillance protocols would provide little or no real benefit for law enforcement.

o Protocols to allow surveillance will undermine network security. Ensuring adequate security on the Internet is extremely difficult. The President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection identified the Internet as a critical but vulnerable infrastructure. Any protocol that requires backdoors or other methods of ensuring surveillance will create new security holes that can be exploited. In addition, the increased complexity of the systems will further undermine security and increase costs of development and implementation. The National Research Council "Trust in Cyberspace" report identified increasing complexity as a core cause of decreasing security. The new security holes will likely cause more economic and personal harm than any interceptions facilitated will prevent.

o The proposed protocols will stifle development of new communications technologies. Any requirement to ensure that every new communications system includes eavesdropping capabilities will limit the ability of companies and individuals to fully develop and deploy new communications technologies. In the United States, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) has delayed the development of new telephone, cellular and satellite communications technologies as conflicts over the surveillance standards have continued.

o There are no legal requirements for the IETF to develop surveillance protocols. There are no current requirements under U.S. law requiring that computer networks facilitate surveillance. The U.S. Congress, when enacting CALEA, specifically rejected the inclusion of computer networks in the statutory mandate. In addition, it is inconsistent with laws in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union Directive 97/66/EC of 15 December 1997 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector, requiring that every provider of telecommunications services "must take appropriate technical and organisational measures to safeguard security of its services."

o Surveillance protocols will not prevent crime. Even if the IETF were to develop protocols that facilitated surveillance, it would not prevent crime as most significant criminal enterprises (i.e., those important enough to warrant being placed under surveillance in the first place) would be sophisticated enough to use end-to-end encryption products to prevent decoding of the intercepted communications. Indeed, almost all national governments have rejected calls for mandatory key-escrow encryption because they recognize that it would not be effective.

o Building in surveillance protocols is inconsistent with the previous activities of the IETF. The IETF has long attempted to increase the reliability, security, and privacy of computer networks. The August 1996 Internet Advisory Board (IAB) and Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) Statement on Cryptographic Technology and the Internet (RFC 1984) called for the availability and development of stronger tools to protect security and privacy of network users and rejected limitations on computer security based on country requirements for interception. More recently, the IETF agreed to incorporate encryption into IPv6, even in the face of domestic and export controls in some countries. It would be a dramatic change in policy for the IETF to now begin work on developing surveillance capabilities for IP Voice.

o The proposal will have severe consequences in many non-democratic countries. Privacy of communications is a fundamental human right recognized in the United National Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and many other international human rights agreements that have been signed by nearly every nation in the world. However, in many nations, those fundamental rights are routinely violated by the national governments and others. The U.S. State Department reported in its 1998 survey of human rights that governments in over 90 countries were conducting illegal surveillance of their citizens. The protocols would continue and likely expand that surveillance.

In conclusion, we urge the IETF to reject the development and inclusion of these protocols.


Austin Hill
Zero-Knowledge Systems

Steven Aftergood
Federation of American Scientists

Yaman Akdeniz
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

David Banisar
Attorney and author, The Electronic Privacy Papers

Steve Bellovin
AT&T Labs- Research

Matt Blaze
AT&T Labs - Research

Caspar Bowden
Foundation for Information Policy Research

Jean Camp
Harvard University

Jason Catlett
Junkbusters Inc.

Roger Clarke
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd

Lance Cottrell
Anonymizer Inc.

Rick Crawford
UC Davis Computer Security Group

Professor George Davida
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Alan Davidson
Center for Democracy and Technology

Simon Davies
Privacy International

Lisa S. Dean
Free Congress Foundation

Whitfield Diffie
Sun Microsystems

Brian K. Durham

Dave Farber
University of Pennsylvania

Clinton Fein
ApolloMedia Corporation

Leonard N. Foner
MIT Media Lab

Michael Froomkin
University of Miami School of Law

Emily Frye esq.
iWitness, Inc.

John Gilmore
co-founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Brian R. Gladman
Information Security Consultant

Ellen Hanratty
Medicine Hawk Publications

Roger Harrison
Independent security consultant

Mark W. Heaphy
Wiggin & Dana

Paul Hoffman
Internet Mail Consortium and VPN Consortium

Gus Hosein
London School of Economics

Eric Hughes
Signet Assurance Company


Joichi Ito
Neoteny, Inc.

Jerry Kang
UCLA School of Law

Phil Karn

Susan Landau
Sun Microsystems Inc.

Ben Laurie - Apache Software Foundation,
OpenSSL Group and A.L. Digital Ltd

Bill Lemieux
Technical Alchemy

Lawrence Lessig
Harvard Law School

Ralph Mackiewicz

Russell McOrmond
FLORA Community WEB

William Hugh Murray, CISSP

Peter Neumann

Grover G. Norquist
Americans for Tax Reform

Richard Payne

Dinah PoKempner
Human Rights Watch

Jean-Jacques Quisquater
UCL Crypto Group and Math RiZK

Donald Ramsbottom LL.B, BA (Hons).
RAMSBOTTOM & Co. Solicitors

Michael Richardson
Sandelman Software Works

Ronald L. Rivest

Marc Rotenberg
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Pamela Samuelson, Professor of
Information Management and of Law, UC Berkeley

William L. Schrader
Chairman, CEO and Founder PSINet Inc.

Bruce Schneier
Counterpane Systems

Barbara Simons
Association for Computing Machinery

Tim Skorick
Technical Security Contractor

Richard M. Smith
Independent security consultant

David Sobel
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Shari Steele
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Barry Steinhardt
American Civil Liberties Union

David Wagner
University of California, Berkeley

Coralee Whitcomb
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Philip R. Zimmermann
Network Associates

Affiliations for identification purposes only.

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