Washington, DC 20515
June 23, 1998
The Honorable Newt Gingrich
United States House of Representatives
Dear Mr. Speaker:
As you are aware, Congress, the Administration, industry, and other interested groups have been engaged in an ongoing debate regarding our nation's policy on encryption technology since the Bush Administration. Little progress has been made.
We believe that the House of Representatives has a vital role in moving us toward an overdue resolution of this issue. Therefore we urge you to schedule H.R. 695, the Security and Freedom Through Encryption Act, for action on the House Floor before the House recesses for the month. We understand that Senate Majority Leader Lott intends to bring comparable legislation to the Senate Floor in July.
Earlier this year, Vice President Gore wrote to Senate Democratic Leader Daschle to seek his support for a productive dialogue between government and industry to seek cooperative solutions to this issue. Following the Vice President's letter, industry representatives and the Administration entered into lengthy and intensive discussions, with both sides searching in good faith for mutually agreeable policies to foster the competitiveness of U.S. technology industries and commerce, protect the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans, and preserve our national security.
While both sides have reported healthy and open discussions, it is apparent that a resolution is not at hand. In the absence of any legislative activity or any deadline, discussions have stalled. Establishing a time frame for legislative action may reinvigorate these talks and in any event is necessary to move us forward.
This Congress' continuing failure to address this problem threatens our international competitiveness, our economy, and our national security. American industry's share of the international commercial encryption market has fallen significantly in the last few years, and without export relief, this trend will only continue. Foreign competitors are gaining strength and market share and American companies have been forced to establish partnerships with companies in Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan in order to compete with products that meet the demands of overseas customers.
While the economic impact would be severe (latest estimates are nearly $100 billion over the next five years, with hundreds of thousands of lost jobs), of even greater concern is the consequences for our national security. If the encryption industry moves overseas as the result of these policies, the world's foremost cryptographers and security experts will no longer be ours. This expertise may no longer be available to help us address the challenges presented by strong encryption and advances in technology.
To ensure this does not occur, we believe the House should approve H.R. 695, as reported to the House by the committees of primary jurisdiction, without delay. In the 105th Congress, this legislation has been considered and reported by five different committees, and has been pending since our first session. The SAFE Act has 250 cosponsors, more than any other legislation cleared for floor action, and enjoys wide support among experts knowledgeable in the fields of technology and electronic security. The time and effort expended on this issue should not now be wasted.
We recognize that, as the minority in the House of Representatives, we cannot determine which measures are put on the House schedule. When we are concerned that legislation of great importance has been stalled, our only options are to ask the majority to bring the legislation to the floor, or to file a discharge petition.
We are now urging you to schedule floor debate on H.R. 695 as soon as possible. Absent prompt action by the House, we will lose the opportunity to address this urgent matter until the next Congress. This would not serve our national security, our economy, or the development of technology and electronic commerce.
Dick Gephardt, Democratic Leader