Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) has introduced legislation designed to relax export controls on privacy-enhancing encryption technology. The "Promotion of Commerce On-Line in the Digital Era (Pro-CODE) Act" (S. 1726) would place export control authority in the Commerce Department, rather than the State Department and the National Security Agency (NSA) -- the agencies currently charged with that responsibility. The bill also contains a "prohibition on mandatory key escrow" and would restrict the Department of Commerce's ability to impose government-mandated encryption standards (such as the Clipper Chip) on non-governmental entities. As Sen. Burns explained in a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated to other members of the Senate:
This Act will allow businesses and individuals worldwide to choose the strong security features that they need to protect information being communicated in electronic commerce by: 1) prohibiting the government from imposing government-designed encryption standards on the private sector; 2) prohibiting "Big Brother" from mandating a back door into people's computer systems; and 3) updating U.S. export controls on the sale of encryption products in foreign commerce, and placing U.S. businesses on a level playing field with their foreign competitors.
Co-sponsors of the Pro-CODE Act include Sens. Robert Dole (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Larry Pressler (R-SD) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The proposed legislation comes in the midst of an ongoing debate concerning U.S. encryption policy and at a time when the need for secure electronic communications is becoming widely recognized. The explosive growth of the Internet underscores the need for policies that encourage the development and use of robust security technologies to protect sensitive personal and commercial information in the digital environment. As Sen. Burns noted upon introduction of his bill, "Computer users will not be willing to transmit creative content, business plans or even send letters without assurances of data security."
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