Encryption for All: Why This American Tradition Must Be Upheld

On August 28, 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison from Paris about the French revolutionaries, relaying an important piece of strategic information: “Mirabeau is their chief.”

Except, what he really wrote was “589.510.491.1341.1006.1354.581.738.” Jefferson was writing in code, and not just about the French Revolution. The letter also contained changes to the language of what would eventually become the First Amendment.

When he visited the White House last summer, Geoffrey King brought printed copies of Jefferson’s letter with him. King, a visiting lecturer at the UC Berkeley media studies department and a First Amendment lawyer, was there to advocate against government backdoors to encryption, secret mechanisms that allow unauthorized access to encrypted information.

While many proponents of backdoors say that they are vital to intelligence gathering…

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