The Lessons of the Crypto Wars

The right to strong encryption almost became law in the 1990s. Here's what happened.

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Media Outlet: Slate

If recent tech policy debates are any indication, the old axiom is true: History really does repeat itself sometimes.

Earlier this month the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of an appropriations amendment to defund any government attempts to require encryption backdoors. Privacy advocates hailed it as an indication of how lawmakers feel about the FBI’s recent assault on encryption. But what some observers may have forgotten is that a similar pro-encryption measure—the Security and Freedom Through Encryption Act—gained an equally impressive show of support as a stand-alone bill in the late 1990s, toward the end of a period known as the Crypto Wars. The story of the SAFE Act serves as a powerful reminder of how the climate surrounding technology can change—and not always for the better.

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Danielle Kehl is a fellow at New America's Open Technology Institute, where she researches and writes about technology policy issues.