White House OKs export of some strong encryption

FBI’s Carolyn Morris says
center will help fulfill investigative duties.

The Clinton administration will allow the export of strong encryption products for
protecting certain types of data and supports creation of a federal encryption research
center, White House officials said this month.

The announcement was an attempt to resolve the long-standing dispute between companies
that use encryption to protect proprietary information and law enforcement and national
security agencies that need access to computer data for investigations.

“The administration will also strengthen its support for electronic commerce by
permitting the export of strong encryption when used to protect sensitive financial,
health, medical and business proprietary information in electronic form,” White House
press secretary Mike McCurry said at a White House press briefing.

The administration agreed to establish a technical support center at the FBI that will
help law enforcement officials keep abreast of encryption technology. The proposed
National Electronic Technology Center would serve as a clearinghouse for producers of
encryption and investigators who need advice on decrypting data.

“This center will provide federal, state and local law enforcement with the
resources and the technical capabilities we need to fulfill our investigative
responsibilities,” assistant FBI director Carolyn Morris said at the briefing.

The proposal is the latest in the lengthy debate over encryption limits and who should
have access to digital keys to unlock encryption algorithms.

Businesses want strong encryption to protect proprietary information. Civil liberty
groups argue that encryption is necessary for protecting personal information from the
prying eyes of government. But law enforcement and national security authorities
argue that terrorists, swindlers and other criminals will use strong encryption to avoid
detection and arrest.

“We think this is a very important advance in a crucial area for our security in
the future,” deputy Defense secretary John Hamre said at the briefing.

Earlier this year, Hamre stressed that DOD would require strong encryption, including a
plan for managing digital keys [GCN, May 4, Page 1].

The new proposal would address those concerns in part, Hamre said, but DOD also will
proceed with its own private-key initiative.

DOD needs strong encryption for electronic commerce, communications and for national
security reasons, Hamre said. “We can’t be efficient unless we can become fully
electronic, and electronic commerce is essential for us. And this is an enormous step
forward,” he said.

About 95 percent of DOD communications use the public communications infrastructure.
“To protect ourselves in that public environment, we must have encryption and we must
have a key recovery system for ourselves,” he said.

The administration’s new policy is a step in the right direction, said Rep. Bob
Goodlatte (R-Va.), sponsor of the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act, HR


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