(Washington, DC) — The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) applauds the passage of HR 695, the “Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act” by the House Judiciary’s Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee.

“By passing the Goodlatte-Lofgren encryption bill, the subcommittee has cast a vote in favor of protecting the privacy of communications on the Internet and the integrity of computer systems worldwide,” said Ed Black, CCIA President.

“This bill recognizes today’s realities,” Black said. “Strong encryption is available from foreign sources. If we prevent U.S. companies from exporting their encryption products, it does not stop foreign companies from selling their versions — nor does such a policy prevent criminals from obtaining strong encryption. The Goodlatte-Lofgren bill keeps competition on a level playing field, keeps the illegal use of encryption in check and puts our government’s encryption policy on the right track.

“But today’s vote is just the beginning,” Black continued. “Unless the U.S. is prepared to concede international markets to foreign companies offering stronger encryption without a government mandated key recovery component, we must pass this bill,” he said.

“The need for this legislation is directly proportional to problems with the current U.S. encryption policy advanced by the Clinton Administration. Today’s vote sends a message that the current policy is unworkable, does not follow the recommendations of the National Research Council study on encryption, and lacks international support. In short, the policy is bad for business, bad for the Internet, and bad for privacy rights, ” Black added.

Encryption, or digital data scrambling, is the only means of effective data protection. The SAFE bill seeks to reaffirm the unfettered domestic use of encryption, and expand the export of more advanced U.S. encryption products. The bill would also prohibit the government from implementing a mandatory key recovery policy and sets criminal penalties for the illegal use of encryption.

Current U.S. policy offers only a modest relaxation of export rules to those companies which agree to incorporate key recovery into their products.

CCIA objects to the government’s key recovery mandate which removes the ability of the private sector to adequately protect itself and opens the door to a multitude of possible invasions of privacy. In a letter this week to members of Congress, CCIA and other associations representing major retail, banking, manufacturing and information technology firms and privacy groups, urged support of the SAFE bill.

Calling HR 695 a “landmark piece of legislation,” the groups stated in the letter that SAFE would: “facilitate development and use of the Internet by eliminating antiquated restrictions which limit sales of products that protect the privacy of Internet users; allow U.S. businesses, whether operating at home or abroad, to put effective locks on their trade secrets and other critical commercial data; and allow companies that make encryption products to compete on a level playing field with foreign companies.”

“The wide range of businesses with an interest in this issue should indicate to policymakers the importance of encryption for the protection of information and the integrity of complex systems,” said Black. “We cannot afford to allow competition, the future of electronic commerce and the security of digital data to be compromised any further. For these reasons and others, we urge full congressional support of HR 695.”

CCIA is an association of computer and communications industry firms, as represented by their chairmen, presidents, chief executive officers, chief operating officers and other senior executives. Small, medium and large in size, these companies represent a broad, cross-section of the industry, including equipment manufacturers, software developers, telecommunications and on-line service providers, re-sellers, systems integrators, third-party vendors and other related business ventures.

CCIA member companies employ over a half million workers and generate annual revenues of nearly 200 billion dollars.

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