5 March 1999
Source: http://www.usia.gov/current/news/latest/99030404.clt.html?/products/washfile/newsitem.shtml

USIS Washington File

04 March 1999


(Administration continues opposing decontrol bill)  (490)
By Bruce Odessey
USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- So far neither side has budged in a continuing battle in
Congress to overturn Clinton administration policy controlling exports
of strong commercial encryption software.

In the previous session of Congress a bill that would essentially
eliminate export controls on commercially available encryption passed
neither the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate despite broad
support, at least in the House.

Opposing it were members associated with law enforcement and
intelligence interests as well as the Clinton administration.

With relatively minor changes, the bill has been reintroduced by
Representative Robert Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, who has
secured 204 House cosponsors, both Republicans and Democrats -- nearly
half the 435 members.

In March 4 testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee,
administration officials reiterated their opposition to the Goodlatte

The administration has relaxed its policy somewhat since September,
generally allowing exports of 56-bit strength software and
specifically allowing exports to certain countries of stronger
software for certain industries such as finance and health.

One main objection to the policy from supporters of the bill is that
exports of software -- essentially a string of 1s and 0s -- cannot be

They argued that 128-bit software is already widely available outside
the United States and can easily be transmitted worldwide by e-mail,
downloaded anywhere from multiple sites on the Internet and carried
across borders on small disks or laptop computers.

"I can't understand why there's any point left" in trying to control
encryption exports, said Representative Howard Berman, a California

Law enforcement and intelligence agents argue they cannot unscramble
messages transmitted with encryption of 128-bit strength in a timely
way that matters.

And Barbara McNamara, deputy director of the National Security Agency,
testified that the administration does not expect to prevent robust
encryption from reaching every potential adversary.

Rather, she said, the administration in cooperation with its allies
seeks to slow down the widespread proliferation of robust encryption.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Ronald Lee indicated that slowing
the proliferation would give intelligence and law-enforcement agencies
some time to explore whether technology now in development can assist
their work somehow. He did not elaborate.

"This is not a finger in the dyke," Representative Bill Delahunt, a
Massachusetts Democrat, said in reply. "There is no dyke."

William Reinsch, under secretary of commerce, said, however, that
widespread availability does not mean widespread use -- in fact, use
lags significantly behind availability for a number of reasons.

A number of House members expressed suspicion that the administration
intends eventually to impose controls on domestic use of strong
encryption as FBI Director Louis Freeh has advocated, but Reinsch
denied that.

"I want to reiterate that this administration is not seeking controls
or restraints on domestic manufacture or use of encryption," he said.