US Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday announced his decision to broadcast the execution, scheduled to take place 16 May at a federal facility in Indiana, on closed-circuit television.
"The broadcast will use the latest encryption technology, integrated with state-of-the-art video conferencing over high-speed digital telephone lines," Ashcroft said at a news conference.
Because of the government's concerns about attempts to steal or disrupt the transmission, Ashcroft declined to provide any further details about the broadcast. A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman also declined to give a more thorough description of the technology that will be used.
Hundreds of relatives of people who died in the April 1995 bombing have expressed interest in viewing McVeigh's execution, but the execution chamber is too small to accommodate all of them. Their request touched off a debate in the US about the way the government handles executions, with some people saying they should be public or at least broadcast on television or over the Internet.
But Ashcroft ended that discussion for now with his decision to encrypt the broadcast and send it so that only the relatives of bombing victims will be able to see McVeigh's execution by lethal injection.
"The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history," Ashcroft said. "The Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and the victims' families in accordance with our responsibilities to carry out justice."
Federal law forbids the recording of an execution, so the government has no choice but to broadcast the event instantaneously to a location in Oklahoma City. Relatives of victims will watch the broadcast there. Ashcroft said the federal Bureau of Prisons will work closely with the FBI to prevent any attempts to record McVeigh's death.
To encrypt the broadcast, an encryption device will be attached to the system where the execution takes place. A device that decrypts the scrambled data will be attached where the victims' families will be watching.
Bob Wrede, vice president for government services at Netsec Inc. in Herndon, Virginia, said the government can be confident that no one will be able to receive the transmission other than the people for whom it is intended.
"It will be virtually impossible for anybody who tapped into the line and received the data to do anything with it because it's being encrypted," Wrede said. NetSec provides managed security services for government agencies and commercial clients, and the DOJ is among its customers.
As for the level of encryption the government will use, Wrede said no one outside the agencies involved would know that. The government has very sophisticated encryption devices which they use regularly, Wrede said.