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  Let's Open Up Encryption

By Bob Goodlatte
Thursday, June 12, 1997; Page A22


The Post's May 25 editorial "Showdown on Encryption" missed the mark on several key issues. The Post's readers should know the facts.

First, the editorial ignores the most important aspect of this debate: Strong encryption prevents crime. Just as dead-bolt locks and alarm systems help people protect their homes against intruders, thereby assisting law enforcement in preventing crime, strong encryption allows people to protect their digital communications and computer systems against criminal hackers and computer thieves. The blue-ribbon National Research Council said it best, concluding that strong encryption supports both law enforcement efforts and our national security, while protecting the proprietary information of U.S. businesses.

It is ludicrous to suggest that not enough is being done to prevent the abuse of encryption by criminals and terrorists when our current government policy leaves our computer systems open to criminal or terrorist attack. The New York Stock Exchange, the national electric power grid, industrial trade secrets and consumers' credit cards all are unnecessarily vulnerable today and can be protected by the use of strong encryption.

Regarding key management systems, user needs are driving the on-line world to develop such systems without government intervention. The security and effectiveness of these systems will be tested by the market. Consequently, it is impossible to know at this point which systems will succeed and which will fail – the intensely competitive global marketplace will decide that question. Government bureaucracy and regulation are neither necessary nor desirable. To quote former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher: "Governments . . . are themselves `blind forces' blundering about in the dark, and obstructing the operations of markets rather than improving them."

The observation that today software is manufactured in a variety of versions misses the point. A software product that enables individuals and businesses to communicate only with domestic contacts but not to serve international business or personal needs is useless on the global Internet.

Finally, the editorial fails to mention that strong encryption products are already available from foreign manufacturers and on the Internet. German, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Irish and other foreign producers are creating strong and reliable encryption products, and reputable U.S. firms are willing to stake their corporate reputations on the quality of those products. Our export restrictions do not keep strong encryption out of the wrong hands. They serve only to keep American industry from fully competing in the global marketplace.

The SAFE Act, which currently has more than 120 bipartisan cosponsors, accomplishes three critical goals: preventing economic crime, promoting electronic commerce and protecting the personal privacy of all law-abiding Americans. This legislation ensures that all law-abiding Americans will be able to communicate and conduct business securely in the Information Age.

The writer, a Republican representative from Virginia, is the principal sponsor of the SAFE Act.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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