Industry Should Be Magnanimous in Victory

The latest weakening of the Clinton administration's encryption policy marks another success for the infotech industry's take-no-prisoners strategy in the Clipper wars.

If the government keeps retreating, it will soon find itself handing out copies of impossible-to-crack encryption software to drug smugglers, under a congressionally funded program to encourage free speech.

Industry has two choices. As victory approaches, it can offer generous terms of surrender to the world's governments that would somehow strike a complex compromise with the U.S. government, the European Union and others.

Or industry can pursue the unconditional surrender of the governments, relying on its technology and its lobbying clout to lay waste to government restrictions on its efforts to sell any encryption technology to anyone.

Bluntly speaking, industry could probably maximize its autonomy and revenue by seeking total victory over governments. That would please the libertarians and Internet boosters, who believe the only good government is a dead government.

But a compromise is not an unreasonable course of action. Just as industry compromises on automobile and worker safety, environmental regulations, pension guarantees and taxes, it should unite to create a legal and technological compromise on encryption.

Perhaps it could call this united front the American Webhead Association for Reasonable Encryption.

Arguably, a compromise would help keep a brake on crime and also jump-start electronic commerce -- ensuring fat profits for the barons of cyberspace.

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