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U.S. advisor seeks full-blown debate on encryption

May 4, 1999
Web posted at: 7:51 a.m. EDT (1151 GMT)

by Margret Johnston

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- The chairman of an organization that advises the U.S. Congress on Internet issues yesterday said he would like to see a campaign-style debate on encryption pitting members of Congress and the Clinton administration who oppose relaxing U.S. encryption laws against U.S. lawmakers who favor loosening them.

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Jerry Berman, chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, said he would push for the debate to be held sometime this year. He added that he would favor participation from U.S. lawmakers who have spoken out against relaxing U.S. restrictions on the export of encryption technology above 56 bit.

"I want a face-to-face debate," Berman said during a luncheon for congressional staff members sponsored by the caucus. "Let them go at it."

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) would be ideal participants, Berman said. And the director of the FBI Louis Freeh would be another good candidate to take part in the debate. But there has been no agenda or date set for the event, Berman said.

The two lawmakers and Freeh have opposed legislation that would change the current U.S. encryption law on the grounds that it would weaken law enforcement's ability to catch suspected criminals, particularly terrorists and drug dealers, because they could use the high-level encryption to prevent access to potential evidence stored on their computers.

Supporters of a change in U.S. encryption law say those arguments are baseless because high-level encryption is easily obtainable and the U.S. law has only hamstrung American businesses who want to sell and use such encryption outside the U.S.

Berman announced that, in addition to the encryption forum, the caucus by year-end would hold forums on privacy, content and broadband technology.

"The goal is to educate policy makers about the Internet as a technology," Berman said. "We need to explain to policy makers what these issues are."

The Internet Caucus Advisory Committee comprises 120 public interest groups, corporations and associations. Members typically favor maintaining the decentralized, deregulated global aspects of the Internet, Berman said. He added that the caucus got off the ground because Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) without first asking itself whether it fully understood technology and how the Internet works.

The CDA was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

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McCain proposes loosening crypto restrictions
Group offers free Linux-based encryption software
(InfoWorld Electric)
New battle lines being drawn over encryption debate
(Federal Computer Week)
Entrust offers European development kit for strong encryption
(InfoWorld Electric)
Congress may loosen export encryption rules
(PC World Online)
Year 2000 World

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Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee Web site
Encryption Special Report from The Washington Post
Encryption Security and Privacy Resource Page
(Site maintained by the Center for Democracy and Technology)

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