Why DESCHALL is not illegal

Seth D. Schoen (sigma@ishmael.nmh.northfield.ma.us)
Fri, 23 May 1997 16:54:56 -0400

In trying to get permission from individuals at my school who manage small
labs (but labs with 200 MHz machines, for instance), as well as in general
attempts to publicize DESCHALL, I have been getting the question:

"Is that illegal?"


"Can we be arrested for this?"

Cryptography, and breaking cryptography, seems to be associated in people's
minds with something which is against the law. I want to tell people that,
unfortunately enough, most laws about cryptography prevent people from USING
it and not from breaking it -- and that this is an attempt to BREAK a
particular key for a very harmless purpose and to promote the general cause
of privacy.

Could someone write the most concise and elegant explaining specifically why
DESCHALL is not illegal? I do not believe that our 50 machines' use is
jeopardized by questions about legality, but I do think the possibility
of finding additional machines is put in some danger. I would like to have
the best and most specific information to present to people to show that there
is no legal liability in running the DESCHALL client. (Administrators in
some places need to be convinced that nice processes don't significantly
load systems which are running other tasks, while administrators in other
places, it seems, need to be convinced that breaking encryption by exhaustive
search is legal.)

For those who are wondering about setting up Cron to run the Macintosh
client intermittently, we now have this working very reliably on about 45
machines, and I am still working on writing it up.

Nothing is more dangerous for man's private morality than the habit of
commanding.  The best man, the most intelligent, disinterested, generous,
pure, will infallibly and always be spoiled at this trade.
            -- Mikhail A. Bakunin (thanks to Rabbi Albert Axelrad)