Key Democrats Ask Clinton for
Overhaul of Encryption Export Policy

(April 6, 1998)  Twelve House Democrats wrote to President Clinton asking him to reconsider the Administration's support for restraints on export of encryption products.  The twelve mostly come from districts which contain computer industry companies.  However, several House leaders, including Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, and Democratic Caucus Chairman Vic Fazio, also signed the letter.

Support for strong encryption legislation is widespread and bipartisan in the House of Representatives.  However, the Safety and Freedom through Encryption Act (SAFE) -- HR 695 has faltered under lobbying pressure from the White House and the FBI.  Letter signatory Zoe Lofgren is also one of the main sponsors of the SAFE Act.

Related Story: Senate Hearing on Encryption, 3/17/98.

The group of twelve includes four Californians: Zoe Lofgren (CA 16th) from Silicon Valley, Anna Eshoo (CA 14th), Vic Fazio (CA 3rd) from northern California, and Cal Dooley (CA 20th) who represents the lower San Joaquim Valley, Fresno, and Bakersfield.

The group also includes Adam Smith (WA 9th), whose Seattle/Tacoma district includes both Microsoft and Intel facilities.  Three east coast signatories also represent high tech intensive districts: Sam Gejdenson (CT 2nd), Jim Moran (VA 8th) from the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, and Ed Markey (MA 7th) from suburban Boston.

The group is also stacked with Representatives in leadership positions and key committee positions.  Dick Gephardt (MO 3rd) is the House Democratic Leader.  Vic Fazio (CA 3rd) is Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third ranking leadership position.  John Conyers (MI 14th) is the Ranking Minority Member of the House Judiciary Committee.  Ed Markey is the Ranking Minority Member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee.  Sam Gejdenson is the Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade.

Support for strong encryption rights legislation is also strong among House Republicans.  HR 695's lead sponsor is Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  Republican leaders Bill Paxon and John Kasich are both cosponsors.

Complete Text of the Letter

April 2, 1998

The President
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 Gephardt
Zoe Lofgren
Vic Fazio
Martin Frost
Sam Gejdenson
John Conyers, Jr.
Edward J. Markey
Anna G. Eshoo
Rick Boucher
Calvin M. Dooley
James P. Moran
Adam Smith