Computers: Can A System Keep a Secret?

The Iranscam revelations raise thorny issues about privacy

When Lieut. Colonel Oliver North sat down at his computer terminal to compose memos to his superiors at the National Security Council, he made a common assumption. He thought his electronic missives -- relaying confidential details of the ill-fated Iran-contra deal -- were more secure than messages sent by post or by telephone. The magnitude of that error now confronts him in bookstore windows around the country. For not only have hundreds of those potentially incriminating messages been recovered by federal investigators but they also are available to all, in published copies of the Tower commission report.

North's miscalculation holds a...

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