Steganography No Solution

12 Aug 93

I agree with Tim May's suggestion that it would be good if steganography and cryptography tools were widely available, especially in light of the government's obvious hostility towards cryptography.

But I can't agree that these tools will be sufficient to bring about Tim's concept of "crypto anarchy", of "libertaria in cyberspace". If we really want to achieve these goals I think it will be necessary to take political action. Technology alone will not be enough.

After all, even today techniques exist which would in principle allow a digital cash system to develop. Yet no such system exists. There needs to be an infrastructure, a network of bankers, sellers, users, and other participants. All this will take time to develop even in the best of cases.

But if the government is actively fighting such technology, I don't see how Tim's proposed subterfuges with DAT's and CD's are going to be enough to overcome this additional barrier. Without the ability to publically negotiate the tricky issues of standards and contracts, I don't see how a financial infrastructure of the sophistication needed for digital cash could arise.

As another example, suppose the government banned non-Clipper cryptography. Despite the brave comments of some, I think it would be very hard to overcome such a ban. Look at the problems PGP has had, faced merely with the relatively weak threat of patent suits (patents which have not, to my knowledge, been tested in court). PGP is constantly being taken off FTP sites based just on letters from the patent holders. Even Tim himself suggested some time back that Cypherpunks should rethink support for PGP given the patent situation. Imagine how much worse it would be if the government actually could put people in jail for using PGP.

My main point is that we cannot rely on the technology to save us. A concerted government effort could, in my opinion, stifle the growth of individual liberties that cryptography may offer. Clipper is just one battle in this longer war. We can't afford to fall victim to a smug confidence that victory will inevitably be ours. If we get to the point that steganography is the only way to communicate privately, we will have lost.

Hal Finney