Robert Novak says that legislation ending export controls over encryption systems would interfere with America's winning the drug war [op-ed, June 28]. Thirty-five years in law enforcement convinces me that inhibiting American companies in developing and marketing secure encryption systems will actually increase crime.

In 1972, when Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, the annual federal budget for the war was around $101 million. Next year, it will be $17.8 billion. Despite the doubling of wiretaps, vast increases in the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes and budgetary increases for drug enforcement that boggle the mind, drug trafficking has flourished.

The nation is afloat in illegal drugs, drug money, drug corruption and drug trade violence. Drugs are cheaper and more potent, opium production has doubled, heroin use is increasing, overdose deaths and drug emergency room visits are up, and adolescent drug use has increased by almost 40 percent.

Yet in the face of such failure, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI request unprecedented powers to eavesdrop, even though they admit that terrorists and other criminals already make use of secure encryption.

The genie of technology cannot be put back into the bottle. If American companies do not develop and market these systems, other nations will.

History shows that treatment is far more effective than law enforcement in solving drug problems. When I was police chief of San Jose during the 1980s, crime was increasing nationally. But it declined in San Jose to the point where it became the safest large city in America. Crime decreased not because police powers were expanded but because the technology industry in Silicon Valley provided plentiful jobs, prosperity and incentives for good education.

If Congress denies the technology industry a level playing field, the thriving American economy that helped lead to seven straight years of decreasing crime will suffer. And unemployment and crime do more to weaken the world's leading power than any drug lord or terrorist could.

-- Joseph D. McNamara

The writer, a former police chief of Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.