White House Set to ease up on crypto

The Clinton Administration is due today to release recommendations on encryption export controls that are expected to suggest that current restrictions be eased.

The Clinton Administration is due to release today recommendations on encryption export controls that are expected to suggest that current restrictions be eased.

Members of a high-tech panel formed by US Representative Richard Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, also are emphasising the issue this week, sending a letter yesterday to Clinton urging that he meet with them within the next week to discuss how best to make progress regarding encryption this year.

A presidential advisory committee passed its recommendations on to the White House in June and although that committee report has not been made public it has been widely reported to advise that encryption restrictions be loosened.

US high-tech companies and some lawmakers have pushed for less-restrictive encryption laws, arguing that the current general prohibition on exportation of technology over 56 bits hurts vendors who cannot compete globally. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law-enforcement agencies argue that encryption restrictions should remain strong to keep encrypted data out of the hands of terrorists and other miscreants.

The President's Export Council Subcommittee on Encryption has recommended in the report that has not been publicly released that restrictions be eased so that products and technology using 128-bit key encryption can be exported, according to the New York Times.

Gephardt's high-tech panel would likely welcome such a sweeping change. Along with Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, both Democrats from California, Gephardt is urging the administration to support the Security and Freedom Through Encryption (SAFE) Act (H.R. 850), under consideration by the House of Representatives. SAFE would ease encryption export restrictions, but also addresses law-enforcement concerns.

"We recognise that opponents of H.R. 850, including several senior members of your Administration, have raised national security and law enforcement concerns regarding this legislation. While we respect these individuals and the expertise they bring to this debate, we believe that their opposition fails to fully appreciate how important strong encryption is to protecting the integrity of our national information infrastructure, ensuring the privacy of our citizens' personal communications over the Internet and enhancing the safety of their electronic commerce transactions," said the letter from the three lawmakers to Clinton.

"We must change our current encryption policy that needlessly places American companies behind the curve of technological advancements and international competition," they wrote.

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