Letter from Sylvia Alexander, Director of the Fund for Peace Human Rights Program, for inclusion in the briefing materials.
July 30, 1997
To Whom It May Concern,
I am pleased to add these brief comments to a Congressional briefing packet on the subject of electronic cryptography.
I am Director of the Human Rights Program of The Fund for Peace. Our mandate is to provide institution-building training and materials to local human rights organizations in many countries. Our materials are based on personal interviews with hundreds of groups. Therefore we have firsthand knowledge of their experiences and methods of operation. The centerpiece of our work, a handbook entitled Human Rights Institution-Building, is currently being used by over 3,000 groups working locally throughout the world.
In our role as advocate for local human rights efforts, we wish to emphasize the critical importance of their ability to safeguard much of the material they produce. Many groups, working under oppressive conditions (some working clandestinely) in countries as diverse as Sudan, Burma, Djibouti, Colombia, Nigeria and Mexico, provide valuable and sensitive information. This information is often the basis of what little human fights abuse documentation comes out of these countries.
With the advent of the Internet, groups, even in the remotest reaches, have begun to communicate using e-mail; plan campaigns reaching hundreds of advocates and allies simultaneously; and strategize using "secure" chat rooms.
That means that information which, if intercepted by hostile security forces, could result in the harassment, torture and even death of the senders, is flowing faster and farther than ever before. At the same time, exhilarated by the speed of communication, many groups are not aware of the vulnerability of e-mail communications. I know, because when a group which we have supported for many years began to communicate by e-mail, I was so relieved that we no longer needed to speak in code on various telephones at prearranged hours, that I began to engage in open discussion of sensitive information and stopped using our code names.
I was subsequently reminded that sending e-mail is like sending a postcard -definitely not a secure form of communication. As an organization, we have since begun educating ourselves about the importance of cryptography, particularly for groups directly documenting human rights abuses. In that way, we hope eventually to be able to set up the electronic equivalent of speaking in code and thus safeguard sensitive information which is typical of human rights exchanges. The ability to electronically encrypt communication between human rights groups, and to the outside world by these groups, is critical to the revelation and eradication of continuing abuses in too many countries.
We therefore support a loosening of restrictions on encryption which is critical to the safe flow of information from human rights organizations working under the most oppressive conditions.
Human Rights Program