When the Clinton administration isn't performing miracles of spin, it's busy thinking up ways to increase government control over the rest of us, using a variety of pretexts as justification. Sometimes the Republicans go along with this sort of thing, sometimes they don't, but the mere fact that it's being done at all is rather distressing.

Remember the Clipper Chip? The Feds came up with this little hardware encryption device in 1993, which would provide encryption ostensibly superior to what the government was willing to permit at the software level — with, of course, a catch. Clipper was a "key-escrow" system, which meant that the government retained a copy of the decryption algorithm. The White House announcement explained that "[a]ccess to these keys will be limited to government officials with legal authorization to conduct a wiretap." Privacy advocates, who had heard that sort of story from the government before, were horrified, and the government was forced to defend its position with the equivalent of "What's the matter, don't you trust us?"

Second verse, same as the first: In his most recent State of the Union address, the President suggested investing some Social Security funds in the stock market, in the hopes of getting higher returns. Almost nobody thought this was a good idea; pundits up to and including Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan pointed out that the enormous amount of money involved would give the government de facto control of many corporations, and the potential for political mischief was extremely high. The Administration's response was to explain that the investments would not be directed by the Executive branch, but that they would follow standard stock indices such as Standard & Poor's. The pundits retorted that this would simply insure that 500 companies were under the federal thumb, to which the Administration replied with the equivalent of "What's the matter, don't you trust us?"

There are more non-surprises to come. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, in conjunction with other agencies, has proposed the innocuous-sounding "Know Your Customer" rule, which basically orders banks to go far beyond the existing Bank Secrecy Act, requiring reporting of large cash transactions, and develop procedures to monitor all their transactions, on the off-chance that someone might miss a laundered dollar here and there. The banks, needless to say, are not happy with this proposal, not only because it generates more work for them, but also because it applies only to FDIC-insured institutions, letting credit unions and brokerages off the hook. Besides which, since when is the government allowed to order the conscription of the private sector to spy on American citizens' financial records? The FDIC, needless to say, doesn't believe its proposal (for which they will accept comments through the 9th of March) is all that bad: "What's the matter, don't you trust us?"

What I want to know is: What part of "No" doesn't the Clinton administration understand?

The Vent

1 February 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill