This letter, signed by 12 leading Democratic Members of the House of Representatives, was sent to President Clinton on April 2, 1998.
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We strongly support legislation that would substantially reform the Administration's export restrictions on American-made encryption products.
We understand from Vice President Gore's recent letter to Senator Daschle, however, that the Administration prefers to make progress on the difficult issues raised by encryption through an intensive dialogue with industry rather than through legislation. We further understand that industry members have met with Administration staff on a preliminary basis to explore the framework for such Administration/industry discussions.
We hope such an approach will succeed, but we are convinced that it will succeed only if all of the Administration agencies involved in those discussions -- when considering the effect of the increasingly widespread use of encryption products on legitimate law enforcement and national security interests -- are realistic about global and technical realities.
Two developments in only the last two weeks illustrate the futility in banning encryption's export or use. Network Associates, the nation's largest independent maker of computer security software, has announced that its Dutch subsidiary will sell an international version of its strongest encryption program. In addition, an MIT scientist, Ronald Rivest, has just proposed a new technique for securing computer files and communications, called "chaffing and winnowing," which doesn't involve encryption at all.
The point is that the Administration can hardly control the proliferation or direction of technology in the digital age. Consequently, the discussions with industry will succeed only if the Administration commits itself in these discussions to a major overhaul of its current export policies and to policies that do not mandate or compel domestic controls on encryption. Rather, government should recognize that in the coming decades the protection of our nation's critical infrastructure and national security interests demand foremost that American industry retain its global leadership in the digital arena. A strong domestic high-tech industry -- in cooperation with national security agencies and law enforcement officials which have been granted sufficient resources by our government for meeting the challenges of the digital age -- is the foremost priority for ensuring American security and global leadership in the Information Age.
We sincerely hope that progress can be made during the next several weeks. If not, we will continue to believe that the legislative process can best develop the reforms needed in this area.
Richard A. Gephardt, M.C.