Encryption Decontrol

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Encryption Decontrol Bill Advances

By Neil Munro

Staff Writer

Information technology industry lobbyists and privacy proponents are growing optimistic that government controls on encryption could be sharply curbed, following a House committee's vote to approve an encryption decontrol bill.

Industry officials welcomed the Security and Freedom Through Encryption Act, saying it would promote the overseas sale of U.S.-developed encryption technology and associated software, and would help U.S. companies manage their operations and sell products via far-flung communications networks.

Despite a last-minute letter from the Department of Justice objecting to the bill, the act was approved by the courts and intellectual property panel of the House Committee on the Judiciary in a 10-minute meeting April 30.

Backers, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Howard Coble, chairman of the committee, also claimed they have enough support to win approval from the full committee and then proceed to a floor vote by the House. Matching bills are being pushed in the Senate by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., "will go a long way toward ensuring the adequate security and protection of all electronic information," according to a statement from the Washington-based Business Software Alliance, which includes Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif.

The alliance has also joined with eight other industry groups to lobby for the bill. These Washington-based groups, which lobby on behalf of all major information technology companies and federal vendors, include the National Association of Manufacturers, the Information Technology Association of America, the Software Publishers Association, the Online Bankers Association and the Computer & Communications Industry Association.

The administration's intervention came in an April 30 letter from Andrew Fois, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs at the Department of Justice. The legislation "would effectively eliminate all export controls on strong encryption, thereby undermining public safety and national security ... [and] discourages formation of a key management infrastructure that addresses the needs of public safety, economic security and privacy," according to Fois' letter.

But the administration may yet derail the House and Senate bills as it did last year with the help of now retired Sen. James Exon, D-Neb. One likely opponent in the Senate is Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., while Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said he might try to amend Goodlatte's SAFE bill during a floor vote in the House of Representatives.

Also, privacy proponents will try to remove one feature of Goodlatte's bill that would criminalize the use of encryption. "This section alone would make most [online] remailers parties to a crime, would make corporations parties to crimes, and would have a 'chilling effect' on the use of crypto," argues Tim May, a privacy proponent in Corralitos, Calif.

Privacy proponents, including the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology and the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, have asked Lofgren to sponsor an amendment that would remove this measure.

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