USIS Washington 

25 February 1999


(House passage likely but further obstacles remain)  (590)
By Bruce Odessey
USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives of
legislation to relax U.S. export controls on mass-market encryption
software seem optimistic they can pass it despite many obstacles,
including likely continued opposition from the Clinton administration.

Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican sponsor of a nearly identical
bill in the previous session of Congress, said at a February 25
briefing that his reintroduced bill already has 205 cosponsors -- 114
Republicans and 91 Democrats -- nearly half the 435-member House.

The issue has split both Congress and the Clinton administration, with
business and privacy interests on one side and law enforcement and
national security interests on the other.

In the House the sponsors have lined up support among most of the
Republican and Democratic leaders although new Speaker of the House
Dennis Hastert has not taken a stand.

Goodlatte said the bill should get quick approval in the two House
committees with original jurisdiction, Judiciary and International
Affairs. He said, however, he expects opponents of the bill in the
Intelligence and National Security committees to approve rival
legislation for tightening export controls on encryption.

In the previous Congress the Republican chairman of the powerful House
Rules Committee, a strong opponent of the Goodlatte bill, blocked it
from getting to the House floor. He has retired, however, and his
successor, Representative David Dreier, strongly supports the bill.

In 1997 and 1998 the Clinton administration opposed the Goodlatte
bill. While the bill was tied up in Congress, the administration
announced in September a policy relaxing controls somewhat on
encryption exports. It raised the general level of software subject to
control from 40 to 56 bits in strength; it raised the level even
higher for certain industries like finance and medicine and for
foreign subsidiaries of U.S. businesses. As before, it imposed no
controls on domestic U.S. sales.

Then in December the administration negotiated an agreement in the
Wassenaar Arrangement, an informal group of 33 countries, that set a
multilateral export-control threshold at 64 bits for mass market
encryption software.

While members of Congress and industry representatives praised the
administration's September policy as a positive step, they deemed it
as insufficient.

The Goodlatte bill would give the U.S. Department of Commerce 15 days
to review new mass-market encryption products. If the review
determines either that exporting the software would pose no
substantial security threat or that such a product was already widely
available on the world market from non-U.S. suppliers, then the U.S.
supplier could export his product without a special Commerce license.

Because the industry production standard is already 128 bits, the bill
would almost certainly violate the agreement in the Wassenaar
Arrangement. At the briefing Goodlatte and cosponsor Representative
Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat, criticized the Wassenaar agreement and argued
it was not binding on the United States anyway.

According to the industry, persons in a number of Wassenaar member
countries continue to make 128-bit encryption software available for
downloading from the Internet.

"It is time for the government to recognize that superior encryption
products are already widely available and being sold by overseas
competitors," Lofgren said, "and that the current controls only hurt
American industry without furthering law enforcement and national
security goals."

A Commerce Department spokesman had no immediate comment on the
comments made at the briefing.