The Founding Fathers Did Use Encryption

One of the arguments that have been made for prohibiting strong encryption is that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have envisioned a world where law enforcers were unable to read communications. Why the Founding Fathers needed to be clairvoyant to justify something today is beyond me but the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had a great rebuttal to the argument. If you head over to the Library Of Congress’s website you can read about how James Madison encrypted his messages to prevent law enforcers from reading them:

As a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, while secretary of state, and in his personal correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison feared constantly that unauthorized people would seek to read his private and public correspondence. To deter such intrusions, he resorted to a variety of codes and ciphers.

Most of the early ciphers that Madison used were keyword polyalphabetic code systems involving a complex interaction of a keyword with alphabets and numbers in a preestablished pattern. The codes were designed by James Lovell, a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress and an expert on ciphers. On July 5, 1782, Edmund Randolph wrote to James Madison: “I wish, that on future occasions of speaking of individuals we may use the cypher, which we were taught by Mr. Lovell. Let the keyword be the name of the negro boy, who used to wait on our common friend.” Madison noted at the bottom of Randolph’s letter, “Probably CUPID.” He added, “I have been in some pain from the danger incident to the cypher we now use. The enemy I am told have in some instances published their intercepted cyphers.”

What’s interesting here is that Madison not only encrypted his messages when he was in the Continental Congress but also after he became secretary of state and in his personal correspondences. He wasn’t just hiding his communications from British law enforcers but continued to hide them even after they had been replaced by United States law enforcers. That only makes sense because if you only encrypt important messages the simple fact you used encryption indicates to spies that the message is important and resources should be put into decrypting it.

Arguing that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have predicted pervasive encryption is idiotic because they themselves used it. There’s also no evidence that they provided either British or United States law enforcers with any keys to allow them to rapidly decrypt the communications if needed.