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'Speaking in Code on the Internet'

The Washington Post
Friday, August 9, 1996; Page A16

The Post's editorial July 27 on my Pro-CODE bill to ease restrictions on encoded, or "encrypted," computer messages ["Speaking in Code on the Internet"] was generally balanced but deleted a couple of key points.

First, my bill would not "lift" restrictions on the export of strong encryption technology, which is designed to allow people to protect their computer files and messages. Instead, it would allow the Commerce Department merely to ease export restrictions to a level of computer security that it deems is "generally available" in the nations we trade with.

This bill does not open the floodgates. Instead, it is an acknowledgment of the real world and that high-tech U.S. companies must be allowed to compete in an increasingly vital sector of the world economy. One trade group stated the United States stands to lose $60 billion in market share and 216,000 jobs under the current restrictions.

Second, the administration's proposal to seek a copy of decoder "keys" for our electronic information is not simply an extension of the groundwork for drastic breaches of privacy rights. Imagine a Craig Livingstone or an Aldrich Ames being designated the "trusted third party" who holds the keys.

Supporters of my bill have never maintained that some criminals will not attempt to use encryption to evade law enforcement. But the bill is an attempt to address the encryption status quo, not some long-ago world to which the FBI would like to return. (FBI Director Louis Freeh stated in the hearing July 25 that he would even like to restrict encryption imports.)

While the White House indicates it might be willing to give people stronger encryption, it insists that the trade-off must be a copy of our decoder keys. It's a deal Americans will never accept and a plan that has yet to be proven feasible.

Denying millions of law-abiding people the use of a legitimate and increasingly necessary security product for "law enforcement" reasons is like banning deadbolt locks because they make it a little harder to kick down the doors of a few drug dealers.

U.S. Senator (R-Mont.)

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Co.

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