(Washington, DC) — In letters to Undersecretary William Reinsch at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Export Administration and to FBI Director Louis Freeh, Computer & Communications Industry Association Vice President John Scheibel questioned the rationale behind recent delays in the approval of export licenses for encryption products. If there is no legitimate policy justifying these delays — which are now stretching 6 TIMES longer than previously — CCIA is urging that they be stopped.

The force behind these delays in the license approval process is the FBI which “is attempting to tighten restrictions on the export of encrypted hardware and software that, until recently, had been routinely approved for export by the U.S. Government,” Scheibel wrote.

“The reason expressed for this denial [of licenses destined for foreign banks and subsidiaries of U.S. companies] by the FBI is that such exports are not congruent with the policy of promoting key recovery products — presumably because they have no key recovery component. The effect of the FBI action is to throw licenses that had been routinely approved into a bureaucratic and time consuming interagency dispute resolution process. What previously took one week to review and approve is now taking 6 weeks,” the letter stated.

CCIA views these delays as unnecessary burdens on businesses and financial institutions and constitutes another in a long line of mixed signals from this Administration on encryption policy. A recent announcement hailed the loosening of the export controls on encryption products to banks, yet licenses to banks are among those being delayed by the FBI’s unilateral action.

If this is what it appears to be — another heavy-handed approach by the FBI to force the Administration’s fledgling key recovery policy upon the manufacturers and users of encryption products — then CCIA believes that it is totally inappropriate.

CCIA is an association of computer and communications industry firms, as represented by their most senior executives. Small, medium and large in size, these companies represent a broad, cross-section of the industry, employing over a half million workers and generating annual revenues beyond 200 billion dollars.