War On Drugs Targets Tech

From: Matthew Gaylor (freematt@coil.com)
Date: Sat Feb 03 2001 - 10:25:25 MST

War On Drugs Targets Tech

Friday February 02 01:16 PM EST
War On Drugs Targets Tech

By Lewis Z. Koch Special To Interactive Week,

The new scapegoat for the failed War on Drugs is, of all things, technology.

The 120-page December 2000 International Crime Threat Assessment report -
created by basically every federal law enforcement agency in the U.S. - is
riddled with examples of how computer technology has advanced the cause of
national and international crime. Modern telecommunications and information
systems, state-of-the-art communications equipment, computers - they're all
to blame.

What the report fails to squarely acknowledge is that the oil that fuels
organized crime in the U.S. and abroad, including terrorist organizations,
is profit from the trade in illegal drugs bound for the U.S. - billions of
dollars in profit from drug sales that enhance the power of international
crime cartels and their ability to corrupt police, judges and governmental
officials from Tijuana to Tanzania.

"Through the use of computers, international criminals have an
unprecedented capability to obtain, process and protect information and
sidestep law enforcement investigations," the report stated. "They can use
the interactive capabilities of advanced computers and telecommunications
systems to plot marketing strategies for drugs and other illicit
commodities, to find the most efficient routes and methods for smuggling
and moving money in the financial system and to create false trails for law
enforcement or banking security."

It goes on to assert: "More threateningly, some criminal organizations
appear to be adept at using technology for counterintelligence purposes and
for tracking law enforcement activities."

In other words, it's not our flawed drug policy that's to blame - it's new

Where All This Began

In 1937, Harry J. Anslinger, six years into his 30-year-reign as director
at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, testified before the U.S. Senate on
behalf of the "Marihuana Tax Act." This delighted the Hearst newspapers,
which, lacking a real war to increase newspaper sales, launched an all-out
battle against demon marijuana. Here are a few excerpts from Anslinger's
sworn testimony. Clearly, our drug policy traces its roots to reasoning
that was as racist and alarmist as it was wildly inaccurate:

* "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are
Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz
and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana can cause white women
to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

* "The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate

* "Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity,
criminality and death."

* "Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

With Hearst's backing, Anslinger's war on marijuana escalated to an all-out
war on narcotics.

Now, after six and a half decades of speeches and hundreds of thousands,
perhaps millions, of arrests, convictions and sentences, what signs point
to even modest success in this multitrillion-dollar war against drugs? Drug
trafficking is the most profitable of all illegal activities, according to
the International Crime Threat Assessment.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Instead of rethinking the sanity of our basic policy on drugs, federal
police agencies appear bent on blaming technology - unbreakable encryption
via e-mail, encrypted cellular phones and faster, cheaper networked
computers - for the losses sustained in the drug war. This is clearly

In 1999 alone, Americans spent an estimated $63 billion on illegal drugs,
according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And the National
Institute on Drug Abuse stated: "The estimated total cost of drug abuse in
the United States - including health care and lost productivity - was $110
billion in 1995, the latest year for which data is available."

In addition, a U.S. Customs Service report said the department will soon be
able to inspect only 1 percent of all goods entering the U.S.

This is the score after six and a half decades of our drug policy. Do we
have to wait until 2037 to recognize that we lost the Hundred Years' Drug
War? And,! in the meantime, will we see more and more attacks on technology
as the evil ally of narcotics?

The obvious yet politically difficult solution here is to remove the
profitability factor from drugs. Will there be more casualties? Will more
people succumb to addiction? Maybe. But don't we already have casualties?
You have to employ some tortured logic to rationalize how removing the
profit incentive from drug use could make things any worse than they are.

Now the Feds want to escalate the war as an excuse for having their way
with encryption. But encryption is an essential business tool and a means
of protecting our privacy. Outlawing it as a scapegoat of our drug policy
is like trembling in fear before the great Wizard of Oz and paying no
attention to the discredited man and his policies behind the curtain.

Introducing Lewis Koch's "First Annual George Orwell 1984 Award"

The prize, a 1949 first-edition copy of Orwell's 1984, worth about $100,
will be awarded to the reader who supplies the best tip about an
egregious assault on personal privacy. The judges will be yours truly, plus
Richard M. Smith and other officers of the Privacy Foundation.

E-mail all suggestions to lzkoch@<http://mediaone.netmediaone.net. All tips
will be held in strictest confidence, so the award might well go to
"anonymous." All suggestions will be fully investigated and thoroughly

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