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Encryption and the right to Freedom by Phil Wells

Encryption and the Right to Freedom

Phil Wells

April 11, 2003 -- As this article is being written, more and more people are becoming aware of the intricate surveillance capabilities possessed and used by government agencies and the private sector to monitor the daily communication of law-abiding American Citizens. Whether it be the ease of wiretapping and email capture that was granted under the 'Patriot Act' or the data collection brought about by the Carnivore program, few people can argue the link between personal privacy and personal freedom.

While at first glance, it may appear that those who wish to deprive you and I of the dignity and liberty that is associated with being "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" have an unbeatable hand, there is no need to worry, as we as citizens still have the right to exercise our 4th Amendment rights legally and for free... through the use of encryption.

To those not very familiar with this technology, 'public key' encryption programs such as PGP, which stands for "Pretty Good Privacy", allow people to send and receive email, telephone calls and computer files in a manner that is as secure as possible in the civilian world. This technology is used by activists and aid workers around the globe to safely and freely communicate within countries where dissent is considered an offense punishable by death.

While that probably (and hopefully) isn't the case for most of us, PGP does offer many benefits that enhance your privacy and protect you from possible retribution, such as being able to express your opinions in a forum that may not welcome them (email from work), protect files from viruses or alteration, but most importantly, encryption gives you the ability to take control of your electronic personal security and privacy.

In addition to this, and in reference to the opening paragraph, PGP is useful in combating recent transgressions against our civil liberties in the form of data surveillance and eavesdropping. You see, programs such as Carnivore look for 'key words' to appear in email, but if all that goes through is 'random junk' (which is what an encrypted message looks like until the right password is entered) it will simply move on to the next person and ignore your message altogether.

On this note, it is estimated that to try to 'brute force' decrypt a PGP message would take a 1 million dollar computer something like 10000 years. This having been said, it is possible that people who might be interested in your email have already developed a way around PGP, but the key to using encryption is that the more people use it, and more often, the less likely it is for one person to be the center of attention, as it would likely be very expensive to attempt to 'break' more than a few encrypted messages at a time.

To try PGP, go to and download the latest version for your operating system. The program is free, installation is step-by-step, the manual provides an excellent introduction to encryption and the PGP program, and within maybe 20 minutes, you should have your own 'private' and 'public' keys made and be ready to send secure email communications.

Many people have said that using encryption is the virtual equivalent of gun ownership - you won't know that you needed it until it is taken away... Thank you and God bless.

Phil Wells' public key can be downloaded here: 

Related Reading

Preparing for the Revolution
Kurt Amesbury, J.D.

Details the "Total Information Awareness" project

Details 'Patriot' II with an emphasis on privacy

About Carnivore, old, but inflammatory and I am sure, still valid information.