Leaders want crypto rules lifted

Arvin Meyer (onsite@esinet.net)
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 11:19:57 -0400

This appeared in today's CNet News:
Leaders want crypto rules lifted
By Reuters
June 5, 1997, 7 a.m. PT

WASHINGTON--Computer industry captains called on President Clinton
yesterday to drop efforts to regulate data-encryption technologies, a move
the FBI warned would cripple law enforcement and leave the country more
vulnerable to terrorism.

In an open letter to Clinton, Bill Gates, chairman and chief executive
officer of Microsoft, and 12 other industry titans said U.S.
competitiveness in electronic commerce was at stake in the debate.

"Network users must have confidence that their communications, whether
personal letters, financial transactions, or sensitive business
information, are secure and private," they wrote.

Access to computer programs with strong data-scrambling, or encryption,
capabilities was "critical to providing this confidence," said the
corporate chiefs who banded together as the Business Software Alliance, an
industry trade group.

Even as they argued at a news conference against export controls on
encryption programs, FBI director Louis Freeh told Congress that the United
States was at an "historical crossroads" on the issue.

"Uncrackable encryption will allow drug lords, terrorists, and even gangs
to communicate with impunity," Freeh told a Senate Judiciary Committee
oversight hearing on the FBI.

He said the government needed a kind of mathematical "key-recovery" system
in which a spare key, or decoder, for encrypted information is held in
escrow by a trusted third party.

In theory this sort of escrowed "key" would give law enforcement
authorities the ultimate ability to unscramble communications, but only if
authorized to do so by a court.

"Other than some kind of key-recovery system, there is no technical
solution," Freeh testified. He said the widespread use of strong encryption
without an escrowed key "will devastate our ability to fight crime and
prevent terrorism."

"If public policymakers act wisely, the safety of all Americans will be
enhanced for decades to come. But if narrow interests prevail, law
enforcement will be unable to provide the level of protection that people
in a democracy properly expect and deserve," Freeh said.

In their letter to Clinton, the computer chiefs said governments should not
impose import or export controls on encryption products nor "attempt to
force use of government-mandated key management infrastructures."

Although no laws stop Americans from using any type of data-scrambling
program within the United States, export regulations let companies export
only a relatively weak form of encryption.

Earlier this year the Clinton administration began allowing companies to
export stronger encryption technology so long at it involved a spare key,
possibly even held outside the United States. Congress is considering
several bills, strongly backed by the software industry, to all but
eliminate the export controls.

In addition to Microsoft's Gates, the heads of Adobe Systems, Autodesk,
Bentley Systems, Compaq, Intel, SCO, Symantec, Claris, Digital Equipment,
Lotus Development, Novell and Sybase also signed the letter to President
Arvin Meyer