Washington, DC, May 19, 1999 – Calling on Congress to relax encryption export controls, Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) President Edward J. Black testified before a congressional panel yesterday afternoon that overly restrictive export controls on encryption products threaten national security interests and competitively disadvantage many strategically important companies within his industry.
Encryption is the primary means by which digital information and communications is protected from unauthorized access by hackers, criminals, or spies. Through cryptography, computer users can scramble their data, rendering it indecipherable to others.
Black spoke at a hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade convened to discuss encryption reform and the Security And Freedom Through Encryption (SAFE) Act (H.R. 850), which Black’s group endorses. The legislation would preserve the privacy of confidential files and communications while supporting the sale of strong U.S. encryption products around the world.
“Our members are extremely sympathetic to the challenges that strong encryption and the explosion of electronic communications present to our country’s national security and law enforcement agencies,” said Black, who represents an international, nonprofit alliance of high-tech CEOs and senior executives.
“Contrary to the assertions of the Administration, it is in fact affirmatively in our national security interest for the U.S. to allow the export of higher levels of encryption. Overly restrictive export controls only serve to stimulate the growth of important foreign competitors and thereby undermine traditional national security interests.”
The U.S. government has long treated encryption products as “munitions,” regulating them under export control laws applicable to military equipment. Given the global prevalence of encryption technology, Black said that this policy produces no benefit to America’s national security, and at the same time, significantly impedes the ability of many of our critical technology industries from competing against their foreign counterparts.
“Stimulation of foreign competition undermines U.S. national economic interests by moving jobs and product development offshore or replacing lost U.S. sales with foreign products,” Black said.
Although the Clinton Administration has taken modest steps to relax encryption export regulations, Black said that more reforms are needed before more serious damage is done to the computer industry and the security of all Americans. He said that legislation proposed by the Clinton Administration to implement a new “key escrow” or “key recovery” regime is unworkable and will continue to put American companies at a disadvantage internationally. According to Black, the most effective means of dealing with strong encryption is to utilize access to world’s best and brightest cryptographers and security experts.
“Many such people now reside in America, but this expertise will gravitate elsewhere as we enable the competitiveness of our foreign rivals in the market for strong encryption,” Black said.
H.R. 850 is also currently under consideration in the House Armed Services, Commerce and Intelligence Committees and was reported favorably by the House Judiciary Committee in March.