[ISN] Panel Passes Bill to Halt Limits on Encryption

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Fri Mar 12 1999 - 21:01:39 PST

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    March 12, 1999
    Panel Passes Bill to Halt Limits on Encryption 
    A bill to eliminate the Clinton Administration's limits on exporting
    encryption software won its first round of approval on Thursday,
    unanimously passing a House subcommittee with little debate and no
    The easy vote by the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts and
    Intellectual Property was not a surprise, and is likely most significant
    in that it signals the return of a yearslong battle over encryption
    technology back to the halls of Congress.
    At issue is the software used to scramble data to keep computer
    communications like e-mail, credit card numbers and business records
    private as they move around the Internet. Although there are no federal
    controls on the strength of encryption that can be used domestically, the
    Clinton Administration restricts the export of strong encryption software
    That policy, which is based on the assumption that wide access to stronger
    encryption could put a valuable concealment tool in the hands of domestic
    and international criminals, has been driven largely by Louis J. Freeh,
    the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He wants to tie any
    easing of export controls to mandates for the creation of a so-called
    key-recovery system, which would ensure law enforcers access to the codes,
    or keys, needed to unscramble suspect communications. 
    Those who want the export controls dropped, however, say the present
    policy hurts American software developers because it forces people in
    other countries to buy the encryption technology -- which is widely
    available on the Internet -- from foreign competitors.
    The bill, the Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act, would
    eliminate the export controls now in place and prohibit the government
    from mandating the use of any such key-recovery systems, which supporters
    argue would jeopardize the privacy of average computer users. They compare
    it to requiring a person to keep a copy of his house key on file at the
    local police station.
    The bill was sponsored by Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Zoe Lofgren;
    210 representatives -- including a majority of the subcommittee members --
    have signed on as co-sponsors. Anticipating Thursday's vote by the
    subcommittee, one of the bill's chief opponents on Wednesday sent his
    House colleagues a letter accusing the software and high-tech industry of
    Representative Michael G. Oxley, an Ohio Republican and former FBI agent
    who supports Freeh's position, sent a letter with copies of recent
    articles about features in products made by Intel and Microsoft that
    enable companies to track the movements of people using the products.
    "Computer industry supporters of the so-called Security and Freedom
    through Encryption Act employ the rhetoric of civil libertarians, citing
    their desire to protect the privacy of their customers as the rationale
    for their opposition to encryption export controls and other national
    security and law enforcement safeguards," Oxley wrote. 
    "How ironic it is, then, to find the papers filled in recent weeks with
    headlines such as the ones appearing below. It seems that two industry
    giants have developed the means to secretly trace the authorship of
    documents and collect detailed information on the Internet habits of their
    customers," the letter continued.
    "Despite the high-sounding rhetoric, it would appear that industry
    opposition to including meaningful safeguards in legislation relaxing
    export controls is motivated mostly by a desire to not to be
    inconvenienced by the law enforcement and national security requirements
    of the United States government. Please bear this in mind as Congress
    works to update encryption policy in a dangerous world."
    The SAFE Act now moves to the full Judiciary Committee, which is also
    expected to approve the bill. But before it can be considered for a full
    House vote, it will likely be detoured to a number of other committees,
    including the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which in 1997
    changed a similar version of the SAFE Act to require a third-party
    key-recovery system.
    Still, supporters of the bill are optimistic their chances of passage have
    improved in this new session of Congress, largely because of a change in
    leadership of a key committee -- the powerful Rules Committee, which
    determines what bills move to the floor.
    The retired Rules Committee chairman, Gerald Solomon of New York, was the
    main obstacle to the House bill in the last Congress, siding with law
    enforcement officials who fear unlimited exports will threaten national
    security by making encryption more accessible to terrorists and other
    criminals. Representative David Dreier of California, a co-sponsor of the
    SAFE Act, now heads that panel.,
    "Since its introduction last month, the SAFE Act has received enthusiastic
    and overwhelming support from a wide-ranging and extremely bipartisan
    group of United States Representatives. The reasons for passage of this
    legislation this year are becoming more compelling and more urgent then
    ever," Robert Holleyman, president of the Business Software Alliance, said
    in a statement applauding the vote.
    "Today, computer users around the globe are demanding products with strong
    encryption features to protect their privacy. And, strong encryption
    provides the security and protection necessary for the Internet to thrive,
    thus improving the global economy. Dozens of countries around the world
    have developed products to meet the global demand for encryption, yet
    outdated regulations have not allowed the United States to compete on a
    level-playing field. ... The BSA looks forward to working with the
    Congress to pass the SAFE Act this year."
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