AAAS Letter To Congress Urges Attention To Human Rights

September 29, 1997

Washington, DC - September 29, 1997 - Legislative proposals for the regulation of cryptography technologies should be carefully evaluated for their effects on the work of U.S. human rights groups, says the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in a letter to Congress today.

The letter being sent today to Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Speaker of the House, and Representative Gerald Solomon (R-NY) Chairman of the House Rules Committee expresses concern that recent initiatives would "do grave harm to the United States' ability to promote and protect human rights worldwide." Last week, AAAS also joined with other leading scientific and engineering organizations to send a letter to Members of Congress stating that the initiatives would act to constrain scientific research.

Founded in 1848, AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society with over 143,000 members worldwide and is the publisher of the journal Science. The AAAS Science and Human Rights Program teaches human rights groups how to manage and protect information about human rights violations around the globe. According to AAAS, cryptographic software is an essential tool to safeguard this information from falling into the hands of groups that might use it to target and intimidate citizens who speak out against human rights abuses.

Attachment: Letter to Representative Gingrich

American Association for the Advancement of Science 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005

September 29, 1997

The Honorable Newt Gingrich
Speaker of the House
H-232 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Gingrich:

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society, I am writing to express concern that proposals to maintain or increase current government regulation of cryptography would injure academic freedom, gravely harm privacy and commercial interests, and impede the United States' ability to promote and protect human rights worldwide.

Founded in 1848, AAAS enrolls over 143,000 scientists, engineers, science educators, policy makers, and others interested in science and technology worldwide, and is the publisher of Science magazine. AAAS also provides technical assistance to human rights groups on the design and development of information management systems for large-scale human rights data collection and analysis. We have found that when information about human rights violations is processed and concentrated in computers it becomes at once more valuable and more vulnerable to theft and abuse. In the hands of human rights organizations, such information can produce powerful reports about governments' systematic abuse of their citizens' fundamental rights. However, in the hands of abusive police or military agents, computer information of this kind can be used to target and intimidate those who try to speak out against oppressive regimes.

The only way human rights groups can protect highly sensitive electronic data is to use cryptography. However, proposals currently under consideration treat cryptographic technologies as threats to national security and public safety, rather than valuable tools for protecting vulnerable human rights communications. Some of the policy options being considered would require all encryption products to allow the government access to encrypted data. If such a system were enacted in this country, no non-U.S. human rights groups could be expected to trust any encrypted communication with their U.S. colleagues. This would reduce the effectiveness of U.S. human rights organizations in the growing international human rights movement. In addition, repressive countries often perceive human rights activity as threatening their national security. This means that the U.S. could be faced with other nations petitioning for access to the data of U.S. human rights groups. What would be the U.S. response?

Human rights reporting is one of the most profound forms of democratic speech because it addresses state abuses that prevent citizens from promoting democracy. Without strong cryptography, human rights workers will be far more vulnerable to censorship and repression. We are concerned that these issues are not being sufficiently addressed in the current policy discussions, and so we urge you to proceed cautiously. Any encryption policies should be evaluated carefully for their effects on efforts to promote human rights or on the ability of America's scientists and engineers to do cutting-edge research.


Richard S. Nicholson
Executive Officer

Cc: John H. Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
William A. Daley, Secretary of Commerce, Department of Commerce
Richard Armey, House Majority Leader
Thomas J. Bliley, Jr., Chairman, House Commerce Committee
John Conyers, Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee
Ronald Dellums, Ranking Member, House National Security Committee
Norman Dicks, Ranking Member, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
John Dingell, Ranking Member, House Commerce Committee
Lee Hamilton, Ranking Member, House International Relations Committee
Benjamin Gilman, Chairman, House International Relations Committee
Bob Goodlatte, House Judiciary Committee
Porter Goss, Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
Zoe Lofgren, House Judiciary Committee
Joe Moakley, Ranking Member, House Rules Committee
Floyd Spence, Chairman, House National Security Committee
Bob Kerrey, Vice Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
John McCain, Chairman, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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