Round-Up

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Lawsuits: In the first salvo of an expensive battle between the legal profession and the infotech industry, a group of 57 Democratic representatives have asked President Bill Clinton to support an emerging bill that would curb so-called strike suits in state courts. In 1995, Congress curbed such lawsuits in federal courts, but left the lawyers free to pursue these cases in state courts. Executives say they are often forced to unfairly pay off the lawyers, who sue for damages on behalf of a stockholder once a company's stock unexpectedly declines.

Encryption: The White House is expected to soon send Congress a bill to ease liability problems for companies selling key-recovery encryption software. The bill is similar to measures included in Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) encryption bill, said William Reinsch, undersecretary of commerce for export administration. But the government's proposal is too regulatory for industry, said one privacy proponent.

Medical Privacy: Leahy is redrafting a bill to promote the privacy of people's medical records. The draft is based on a measure jointly introduced last year with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. A variety of medical-privacy bills are being drafted by legislators in expectation of a congressional debate by 1998.

Encryption Exports: The Commerce Department will soon approve export applications from two or three companies seeking to sell sophisticated encryption overseas, said Reinsch. Four companies - IBM, Digital Equipment Corp., Trusted Information Systems Inc. and Cylink Corp. - have already won approval, while another six companies are drafting applications, he said.

Computer Exports: Congress may re-impose tough export restrictions after U.S. companies were caught exporting sophisticated computers to a Russian nuclear weapons research facility. The discovery could jeopardize the administration's nascent effort to raise the processing power for which export licenses would be needed and to "slice and dice" the high-tech export rules to create a new regime, said Reinsch.

8(a): House Speaker Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has deep-sixed plans to kill affirmative action programs, such as the 8(a) program. Republicans need more public support before trying to end or reform the controversial programs, he said.

-Neil Munro


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