[ How ironic ]

KEEP BIG BROTHER'S HANDS OFF THE INTERNET                              
By Senator John Ashcroft                                               
Republican, Missouri                                                   
Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer               
Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism                                  
[Senator Ashcroft takes issue with administration views on the         
and the use of encryption technology.]                                 
The Internet provides a great opportunity to our country, in           
part by representing the most inviting form of communication           
ever developed. It draws people together from all corners of           
the globe to share and communicate on an unprecedented level,          
and brings all branches of government closer to the public that        
they serve.                                                            
The Internet allows small businesses to reach out across the           
globe and conquer the distances between them and potential             
customers. Individuals can view merchandise and make purchases         
without leaving home. The Internet also holds great promise for        
education. Students -- rural, suburban, and urban -- are               
increasingly able to access a wealth of information with their         
fingertips that was previously beyond their reach.                     
In order to guarantee that the United States meets the                 
challenge of this new means of commerce, communication, and            
education, government must be careful not to interfere. We             
should not harness the Internet with a confusing array of              
intrusive regulations and controls. Yet, the Clinton                   
administration is trying to do just that.                              
The Clinton administration would like the Federal government to        
have the capability to read any international or domestic              
computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode,               
digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail,           
and proprietary information sent abroad -- all in the name of          
national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would         
like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all             
exported U.S. software and Internet communications.                    
This proposed policy raises obvious concerns about Americans'          
privacy, in addition to tampering with the competitive                 
advantage that our U.S. software companies currently enjoy in          
the field of encryption technology. Not only would Big Brother         
be looming over the shoulders of international cyber-surfers,          
but the administration threatens to render our state-of-the-art        
computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.                   
There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit           
crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such                
activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone         
jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then,             
should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen          
at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?         
The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to        
protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American           
value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in              
defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in             
effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens'            
Bill of Rights.                                                        
The president has proposed that American software companies            
supply the government with decryption keys to high level               
encryption programs. Yet, European software producers are free         
to produce computer encryption codes of all levels of security         
without providing keys to any government authority. Purchasers         
of encryption software value security above all else. These            
buyers will ultimately choose airtight encryption programs that        
will not be American-made programs to which the U.S. government        
maintains keys.                                                        
In spite of this truism, the president is attempting to foist          
his rigid policy on the exceptionally fluid and fast-paced             
computer industry. Furthermore, recent developments in                 
decryption technology bring into question the dynamic of               
government meddling in this industry. Three months ago, the            
56-bit algorithm government standard encryption code that              
protects most U.S. electronic financial transactions from ATM          
cards to wire transfers was broken by a low-powered 90 MHZ             
Pentium processor.                                                     
In 1977, when this code was first approved by the U.S.                 
government as a standard, it was deemed unbreakable. And for           
good reason. There are 72 quadrillion (72,000 trillion)                
different combinations in a 56-bit code. However, with today's         
technology these 72 quadrillion combinations can each be tried         
in a matter of time.                                                   
Two days after this encryption code was broken, a majority of          
the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee voted, in accordance with           
administration policy, to force American software companies to         
perpetuate this already compromised 56-bit encryption system.          
In spite of the fact that 128-bit encryption software from             
European firms is available on Web sites accessible to every           
Internet user. Interestingly, European firms can import this           
super-secure encryption technology (originally developed by            
Americans) to the United States, but U.S. companies are                
forbidden by law from exporting these same programs to other           
I believe that moving forward with the president's policy or           
the Commerce Committee's bill would be an act of folly,                
creating a cadre of government "peeping toms" and causing              
severe damage to our vibrant software industries. Government           
would be caught in a perpetual game of catch-up with whiz-kid          
code-breakers and industry advances. Senate Majority Leader            
Trent Lott has signaled his objection to both proposals.               
The leader and I would like to work to bring solid encryption          
legislation to the Senate floor. Any proposal should give U.S.         
encryption software manufacturers the freedom to compete on            
equal footing in the international marketplace, by providing           
the industry with a quasi-governmental board that would decide         
encryption bit strength based on the level of international            
technological development.                                             
U.S. companies are on the front line of on-line technologies --        
value-added industries of the future. Consider this: Every             
eighteen months, the processing capability of a computer               
doubles. The speed with which today's fastest computers                
calculate will be slug-like before the next millennium or the          
next presidential election comes along. The best policy for            
encryption technology is one that can rapidly react to                 
breakthroughs in decoding capability and roll back encryption          
limits as needed.                                                      
The administration's interest in all e-mail is a wholly                
unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration's            
track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by            
which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by             
those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason         
to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open        
our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our            
international communications.                                          
Additionally, the full potential of the Internet will never be         
realized without a system that fairly protects the interests of        
those who use the Internet for their businesses, own                   
copyrighted material, deliver that material via the Internet,          
or individual users. The implications here are far-reaching,           
with impacts that touch individual users, companies, libraries,        
universities, teachers, and students.                                  
In December 1996, two treaties were adopted by the diplomatic          
conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization             
(WIPO) to update international copyright law. These treaties           
would extend international copyright law into the digital              
environment, including the Internet. However, these treaties do        
not provide a comprehensive response to the many copyright             
issues raised by the flourishing of the Internet and the               
promise of digital technology. We must work to keep the scales         
of copyright law balanced, providing important protections to          
creators of content, while ensuring their widespread                   
distribution. In an attempt to meet these goals, I introduced          
the Digital Copyright Clarification and Technology Education           
Act of 1997.                                                           
Equally important, we must begin a process that is structured          
to balance the rights of copyright owners with the needs and           
technological limitations of those who enable the distribution         
of the electronic information, and with the rights and needs of        
individual end users. The current treaties and statements are          
not sufficient, and include some language that could create            
legal uncertainty. This vague language could lead to laws that         
ignore technical realities. The language must be clarified             
through the enactment of legislation in conjunction with the           
Senate's ratification of the treaties.                                 
Another issue that could prevent the Internet from reaching its        
potential is taxation. If we tax the Internet prematurely or           
allow discriminatory taxing, we may stifle a burgeoning                
technological development that holds much commercial, social,          
and educational promise for all Americans. Taxation should be          
considered only after we have fully examined and understood the        
impact that unequivocal taxation would have on this new means          
of commerce. The Internet Tax Freedom Act would allow for full         
consideration of the opportunities and possible abuses by              
placing a moratorium on further taxation of online commerce and        
technologically discriminatory taxes. It is important to note          
that S. 442 will allow states and local jurisdictions to               
continue to collect any tax already levied on electronic               
On-line communications technology is akin to the Wild West of          
the 19th century. To best settle this new frontier, we should          
unleash American know-how and ingenuity. The government's              
police-state policy on encryption is creating hindrances and           
hurdles that will eventually injure our ability to compete             
internationally. Government's role should be to break down             
barriers, to allow everyone to excel to their highest and best.        
Senator Ashcroft is a member of the Senate Commerce, Judiciary,        
and Foreign Relations Committees. His Web homepage is: http:// and his e-mail address is:                   
[EMAIL PROTECTED]                                      
Global Issues                                                          
USIA Electronic Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, October 1997                   

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