Date: October 4, 2001
Contact: Audrie Krause, Executive Director
Phone: 415-215-9392

Encryption Guide Will Help Activists Use Secure Technology

SAN FRANCISCO - Noting that nonprofit organizations are not immune to malicious hackers or unwarranted government surveillance, NetAction today announced the publication of a comprehensive guide to help nonprofit organizations and Internet activists use encryption software.

"Internet activists ought to be concerned about the recent calls for restrictions on the use of encryption software because such restrictions could pose a threat to online advocacy," said NetAction executive director Audrie Krause.

Along with the proposals for expanded government surveillance of suspected criminals, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have prompted some policy makers to renew calls for restrictions on the use of encryption software. Proponents of restricting or banning encryption cite its potential misuse by terrorists.

But Krause noted that most privacy and civil liberties advocates believe encryption is useful for many legitimate purposes, and restricting its use would do more harm than good.

"For years, encryption has been widely used to safely communicate information about human rights abuses in nations where other forms of communication are restricted," Krause said. "Nonprofit organizations may also use encryption to maintain the privacy of personnel records, bank account numbers and internal memos stored on networked computers."

Since many Internet users are not familiar with encryption software, and consequently not using it when perhaps they should be, NetAction prepared a comprehensive guide that focuses on its use in the context of Internet activism. The guide is available on the web at: It can be used online or downloaded and printed for easy reference.

The guide includes key questions that Internet users should ask to determine if they should be using encryption software:

"If the data on your computer is sensitive or confidential, it's simply prudent to protect it," said Krause.

The guide includes a primer on how encryption software works, an introduction to the basic features of encryption software, a glossary of cryptography terms, and brief reviews of several free and low-cost encryption software programs that may be useful to nonprofit organizations and grassroots Internet activists. There are also links to numerous online sources of more detailed information on both the technical and policy aspects of encryption.

Encryption is a software tool that uses scrambling to make data unreadable to anyone other than the intended recipient. Internet users who make purchases online are probably familiar with one form of encryption, the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology used to safely transmit credit card account numbers to e-commerce web sites.

Until recently, the availability and use of encryption as a matter of public policy was primarily of interest to information technology professionals and privacy advocates. But the renewed calls for restrictions pose a potential threat to the security of online advocacy as well as to data stored on networked computers.

Founded in 1996, NetAction helped pioneer the use of the Internet for grassroots organizing and advocacy. NetAction's "Virtual Activist" is a free online resource for effective Internet advocacy with limited technology.

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