Americans for Computer Privacy
Organizes to Pass Pro Encryption Law

(March 4, 1998.)  Americans for Computer Privacy, a large, diverse, and new group which was organized to obtain passage of strong encryption legislation, held a public meeting on Capitol Hill today in the huge and ornate House Caucus Room of Cannon Office Building.

The ACP favors passage of legislation, such as HR 695 (SAFE) and S 377 (ProCODE), which guarantees the right to use and export strong encryption products.  The effort stalled last year under pressure from the White House and the FBI, which wants to be able to monitor communications and to seize and read the contents of computers, disks, and storage devices.

Strong encryption legislation is supported by a bipartisan majority of House members.   Leaders of the House effort, HR 695 sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), as well as Rep. Rick White (R-WA), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), spoke at the meeting.  Senate support is less broad.  S 337 sponsor Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), as well as Sen. Ashcroft (R-MO), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), all spoke at the gathering.

Law Enforcement

The ACP opposes FBI demands that users of encryption provide a key to their encryption to a third party escrow.  ACP Lawyer Jack Quinn stated, "we do not have to turn over the keys to our front doors to the government.  Why should we have to turn over the keys to our computers?"  Sen. Burns then argued that only good citizens would turn over their keys.  "If Jack and I are bad people, and we want to do bad things to good people, are we going to want to give our key escrow to the federal government?  It won't work."

According to Steve Chand, of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, which is a member of ACP, "the widespread use of encryption gives law enforcement officials and law-abiding citizens the technical edge over crime and criminals."  He continued in a press release that "Director Freeh has raised national security concerns about encryption, but what he chooses not to acknowledge is that failing to protect confidential computer information is itself a serious threat to the nation's safety."


Sen. Ashcroft proclaimed that, "moving forward with the Administration's policy ... would be a folly, creating a potential cadre of government peeping toms and causing severe damage to our vibrant software industries."

Competition in the World Market for Encryption Products

According to Sen. Boxer, "We want our businesses to compete in this economy worldwide.  ... We are just going to loose jobs and market share to other countries" if we don't allow strong encryption.  Rep Lofgren said that, "Since strong encryption is widely available worldwide, efforts to control its spread through export controls will ultimately prove fruitless, benefiting no one but America's competitors."

Rep. Gejdenson pleaded: "When do we learn?  This is about who is going to control the market. The government is not going to control the technology."    He recounted a story about how once Dick Cheney had opposed export of 286 microprocessors.

Consumer Confidence in Internet Commerce

Randy Lively, of the American Financial Services Association, argued that without strong encryption consumers would not develop the confidence necessary for internet commerce to succeed. "If you want to sell more products, you have to make it easier for customers to finance purchases.  If you want to sell products via the Internet, you have to provide a way for your customers to pay for them... (customers) must have absolute confidence."   "Otherwise the Internet may end up as nothing more than a useful reference service."

Upcoming Political Campaign

Ed Gillespie, Executive Director of ACP, stated that the group will engage in grass roots campaigning, and advertising.  The group includes about 100 corporations and industry groups, most of which are involved with software, financial services, and internet retail.

The coalition also includes interest groups from both the left and right.   Conservative member groups include the NRA, Eagle forum, and American Conservative Union.  Several leading liberal interest groups have not joined ACP, but released a statement announcing their support.  The ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Electronic Privacy Information Center issued a joint statement: "We welcome the creation of Americans for Computer Privacy (ACP).  Our organizations support the efforts of the industry-led ACP coalition...   We believe that the ACP will be an important ally ..."

According to Rep. Gejdenson, "The enemy is the executive branch, and it doesn't matter who is in the White House." 

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