The crypto debate polarizes some more
Do citizens of a country have a right to attempt to achieve
privacy from their government, or should they be forced to
submit to covert surveillance?
This month's Netizen, by Rebecca Vesely, characterizes the crypto divide along generational lines (in issue 5.10, not on the Web yet). The historical detail is accurate but the generational angle is far too facile. But I suppose if you're pitching Wired you've got to have an angle.
FBI proposes mandatory domestic key escrowOn 9/3, in testimony before a Senate committee, FBI Director Louis Freeh suggested that all cryptographic products sold in the U.S. should have key escrow built in, "like an airbag in a car" . While many have suspected all along that this was the FBI's goal, the resulting firestorm of protest was intense. On 9/4 the administration's crypto point man distanced the White House from Freeh's remarks. "What he proposed was not the administration's policy," Commerce's William Reinsch told reporters. On 9/5 it developed that the FBI was circulating a draft bill incorporating Freeh's suggestions . While the draft does not propose banning the possession or use of crypto products, just their sale or distribution, history suggests that tightening restrictions once they are on the books is easier than passing them in the first place. Reinsch said of Freeh's proposal, "If the committee were to report that [bill out], I think that would be something we would look at very seriously," he said. "But I don't expect that to happen. We have not asked them to report that and we are not going to ask them to report that." This rapidly developing story has been unfolding on Declan McCullagh's fight-censorship mailing list.
Although the administration hasn't formally endorsed any provisions of the bill, MSNBC has learned that the White House has been providing what is called "technical drafting assistance" to members of Congress writing the bill. William Reinsch, the Commerce Department undersecretary for export administration, confirmed the White House involvement for MSNBC on Thursday night.
California legislature is unanimous for easing crypto export
On 9/5 the California Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 29 , expressing the sense of the Califoria Legislature that California's 54 congressional delegates should support Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Pro-CODE bill, HR 695 . The resolution sets forth the Legislature's vigorous disagreement with the Administration's crypto export policy in frank language and in detail. It passed unanimously in committees of both Houses, on the Senate floor 38-0, and in the Assembly 79-0.
The Clinton Administration had tried to derail the legislation at its first hearing on 8/26 by sending to the Senate Committee on Finance, Investment and International Trade a "secret" three-page attack on HR 695 authored by William Reinsch. An Office of Management and the Budget staffer faxed the "secret" document to the committee less than an hour before the hearing, insisting that the document be shown only to committee members, not copied, not mentioned in public, and definitely not shown to the proponents. This wish was not honored -- proponents were allowed to study the fax for 10 minutes -- and in any event did not impress the committee.
Note that one of California's Senators, Dianne Feinstein, expressed strong agreement with the FBI's mandatory key-recovery proposals (see above). The staff counsel for EPIC commented, "It appears that Senator Feinstein wants a Constitution-free zone for the Internet."
Follow-up reports over the next week ,  apparently remained in ignorance of a public letter  that Schiller posted on 8/28 to clear up the confusion. The letter states unequivocally that the IETF is not hostile to the idea of an S/MIME proposal.
Power was the largest of the six licensed Mac clone makers, doing $400M in 1996. Users are up in arms at Apple's move . Dave Weiner, a long-time Apple developer, said that the interests of Apple and those of its users had now diverged.
Licensing talks finally broke down over the issue of Apple's new OS8. Apple insisted it would not license OS8 to the clonemakers without significant concessions. In the days since the PCC news, Taiwanese cloner Umax has reached a settlement  and will be allowed to ship OS8 -- but not on the newest hardware platform, known as CHRP.
Motorola, the manufacturer of the PowerPC chip, is to make an announcement on Monday 9/8 . Indications are that the chipmaker will shift its PowerPC strategy to emphasize non-PC markets.
In Utica, Michigan, a 15-year-old boy was slapped with an injunction and had his computer equipment confiscated because of a spam he perpetrated from his bedroom . The youth reportedly sent out thousands of offers for an illegal pyramid scheme and caused Rustnet, the ISP whose return adress he forged, considerable trouble and not a few lost customers.
Config.sys Productions Ltd., an Ohio provider of Web space, hired a new worker to promote the accounts of some of its customers. This person acquired a commercial software package that extracts email addresses from Usenet newsgroups and sent out about 30,000 solicitations before company officials, horrified, shut down the mail server and posted a public apology . There was no word of what befell the miscreant.
Iridium  is a 10-year-old effort, initiated by Motorola and now operated by a worldwide consortium, to provide telephone service anywhere on earth. Total investment to date exceeds $4B and featured a $240M public offering (NASDAQ: IRIDF) intended as mezzanine financing. (That's some mezzanine.) Iridium's terrestrial service analogy is cellular. The original schedule  called for launching 77 satellites beginning in June 1996. The first birds actually flew in May 1997; today 21 are orbiting and operational after 4 flights (one Russian); the target number is a scaled-down 66; service is still planned to begin at the end of 1998. Handsets will cost an estimated $2000-$3000.
Teledesic  is a private venture to offer cheap, wireless, high-bandwidth Internet access anywhere on the surface of the planet. Cellular mogul Craig McCaw dreamed it up in the late 80s and Bill Gates invested in the venture with him. Teledesic's terrestrial analogy is fiber -- it will be like throwing a fiber-optic net around the world. Here is a readable history  of the company as of January this year. The original plan called for deploying 840 satellites in low polar orbits; earlier this year Teledesic and its new partner Boeing said they will start with 324 birds, in 12 planes of 24 satellites each, with 36 orbiting spares. The company will sell bandwidth to carriers, ISPs, and phone companies worldwide. Its downlinks will be small fixed installations, easing the process of getting regulatory approval from governments: nervous bureaucrats need only refuse to site a downlink. (The necessary equipment, however, is lightweight, the size of a portable computer. Hmm.)
2^2976221 - 1
When last we visited GIMPS (see TBTF for 1996-12-02 ) the previous record-holder, M-35, had just been uncovered. This new Mersenne prime has more than twice as many digits, at 895,932. You can download the number itself  from the mersenne.org site. M-36 was discovered on 8/24 by Gordon Spence, using a Pentium box running code written by George Woltman <woltman at magicnet dot net> (who is mersenne.org).
A Mersenne prime has the form 2^p-1. The study of these numbers has been central to number theory since they were first discussed by Euclid in 350 BC. The 17th-century French monk Marin Mersenne conjectured famously on which values of p would yield a prime; his conjecture was settled 300 years later.
Thanks to Robert Harley <Robert.Harley at inria dot fr> for the pointer.
Stopping animated GIFs
In Netscape Navigator 3 you can stop the motion of animated GIFs, even after they are completely downloaded and cache-resident, by hitting the Stop button. (Internet Explorer does not offer this feature.) The Stop button will be pickable -- not greyed -- as long as any animated GIF is running. Navigator doesn't get the user interface quite right, at least in the Macintosh version. Once the GIF(s) stop(s) the button should change to grey (become unpickable), but it doesn't always do so.
Try typing just a company's name into Navigator's Location box. Navigator adds "http://www." before what you typed and ".com" after and then goes off to look for the resulting URL.
This week we add another topic to TBTF Threads : the uses of the Internet as a loosely coupled, massively parallel computer.
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