Americans for Computer Privacy
Brings Together Strange Bedfellows

(March 16, 1998)  The newly formed coalition in support of strong encryption law, Americans for Computer Privacy, brings together a vast array of people, groups, and businesses from all over the American political landscape.

News Analysis

The ACP includes over 100 member groups.  It has five outside legal counsel, and a star studded ten member Advisory Panel.  The ACP is an aggregate of ideological opposites, and groups with ancient grudges.

Support in Congress

House of Representatives.  The house bill supported by the ACP, H.R. 695, or SAFE, is co-sponsored by conservative Republican Bob Goodlatte, from the Shenendoah Mountains of Virginia, and liberal Democrat Zoe Lofgren from Silicon Valley.  The bill also has the support of both Maxine Waters and Helen Chenowith, Barney Franks and Bill Archer, David Bonior and John Kasich, and lots of other people with nothing in common, except support for strong encryption.  Over half the House Representatives supports the bill.  However, since that support is not spread equally over the committees which have jurisdiction, the bill has languished.

Senate.  About one quarter of the Senate has cosponsored S. 377, also called the "Promotion of Commerce Online in the Digital Era Act," or simply "ProCODE."  Its original and most active supporter is Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).  But it also has the support of some liberal Democrats, like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Women's Groups

The ACP has brought together both pro and anti feminists. Kathleen Sullivan, Stanford law professor, and leading liberal feminist ideologue, is one of the five Outside Counsel to ACP.  From the other end, the Eagle Forum is an organizational member of ACP.  It is led by conservative anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, and is most famous for leading the successful fight to prevent ratification of the "Equal Rights Amendment".  The Eagle Forum also rallied in support of Clarence Thomas in his darkest hour.  The group is pro-family, pro-free enterprise, and pro-home and religious schooling.  It is distrustful of the government, but for different reasons than Sullivan's people.

Professor Sullivan is a darling of the media, and respected in judicial and academic circles.  Moreover, she has strong ties to the Clinton White House, having worked on the Clinton/Gore 1992 transition team, and written a brief for the Supreme Court on Clinton's behalf in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.  Mrs. Schlafley has no juice at this White House, or in academia, but she leads a large, motivated, and organized grass roots lobbying group.

Gun Control

ACP Advisory Panel member Abner Mikva is one of the last of the "New Deal Democrats".  He is a former labor union lawyer, liberal Chicago Congressman who long championed gun control legislation, Carter appointee to the DC Appeals Court who did battle for over a decade with Reagan appointees, and more recently, Clinton's top White House lawyer.  He now joins his former nemesis, the National Rifle Association.  The NRA went to the mat in many unsuccessful efforts to keep Mikva out of Congress and off the Court.

Rep. Jerry Solomon (R-NY, 22nd) is Chairman of the House Rules Committee, and presently an opponent of strong encryption legislation.   He might be able to keep the bill from passing in the House.  He represents a mostly rural district in upstate New York's Adirondack mountains and counties bordering Vermont.   There is almost no computer industry in his district.  But the NRA has roots up there.

Law Enforcement

The ACLU has made a name for itself by fighting to restrict the law enforcement practices of the police and FBI.  The ACLU is not an official member of ACP, but it just issued a press release announcing its support for and intent to work with the ACP.  In so doing, it finds itself on the same side of the fence as former FBI Director, William Webster, who is on the Advisory Panel, and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

ACP Personnel

The ACP's two major opponents are the White House and federal law enforcement and national security agencies, particularly the FBI.   Louis Freeh wants to be able to read other people's mail, listen to their conversations, and read the contents of seized computers. His argument is that this is necessary to combat home grown militias, middle eastern terrorists, drug dealers, pornographers, and child molesters.  No congressman wants to be perceived as soft on any of these of these groups.  Nor do any want to upset the agency that has given away hundreds of FBI files on individuals to White House political operatives like Craig Livingstone.

The ACP has strategically selected its personnel with the opposition in mind.   Five of the ACP's top people are lawyers who either ran, worked in, or worked for, the Office of White House Counsel, where they handled Clinton's many scandals.  Essentially, the ACP has hired its opponent's former lawyers.  What is considered a conflict of interest in private law practice is just shrewd politics in Washington.  Clinton's ex-lawyers may possess special abilities to access and persuade their former co-workers.   But more importantly, they know where the bodies are buried.

The other major group represented in ACP personnel is former top FBI and national security agencies.  While they are unlikely to be able persuade Louis Freeh to back down, they can give cover to Senators and Representatives who stand up to Freeh.   These include:

Computer Industry

The ACP membership list also reads like a "who's who" of the major computer and internet companies, as well as companies which expect to sell products, provide information, and communicate over the internet.  It also brings industry rivals together.  For example, Microsoft, and its bitter competitors, Netscape Communications Corp. and Sun Microsystems, are all members.

The ACP membership is especially well represented by: