Expert: Act II no threat to crypto

Proposed USA Patriot Act II legislation would add a significant stretch of time to the prison sentences of those convicted of using cryptography to commit crimes.

Some privacy advocates fear it could have a chilling effect on the cryptography industry.

But officials at RSA Security Inc. of Bedford, Mass., said they believe it's too late to slow down the use of strong encryption for digital communication.

'I don't know how you could go back,' said Brett Michaels, director of RSA's government sales. Encryption is too tightly integrated with too many applications essential in e-government and e-commerce, he said.

The draft Patriot II follow-on to the 2001 USA Patriot Act that the Justice Department reportedly is considering would add up to five years' extra prison time for first-offense felonies committed via cryptography and up to 10 years for subsequent crimes.

In the last decade, the cryptography industry encountered government restrictions on crypto development and export in the name of national security.

In 1999, however, the government largely dropped export restrictions and gave up its grip on sophisticated cryptography. Economics, not philosophy, decided the battle, said John Worrall, RSA vice president of worldwide marketing.

'It came down to a market economy,' Worrall said. U.S. export policy was locking American companies out of the worldwide market. The government also turned to the private sector and academics to develop the current Advanced Encryption Standard.

Worrall said he doesn't believe Patriot II would resurrect the tension between government and industry.

'Nobody is saying encryption can't be used,' he said. 'If it stops at that, I don't think we're on a slippery slope.'

Michaels said the argument over stricter sentencing differs from the original argument over whether cryptography should be in private hands.

'The issue of what happens in the commission of a crime is different altogether,' he said. 'The demand for e-business and e-government is so strong that I don't believe there will be any chilling effect.'

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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