5 March 1999
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 bill. 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 controlled. 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 Democrat. 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.