Letter from Senator Burns

Subject: Open Letter to Internet Community From Senator Burns
From: senburns@aol.com (Sen Burns)
Date: 2 May 1996 22:27:05 -0400
Message-ID: <4mbqtp$pac@newsbf02.news.aol.com>


May 2, 1996

Dear friends:

As an Internet user, you are no doubt aware of some of the hurdles the federal government has put up that limit the growth and full potential of exciting, emerging technologies. One of the most egregious of these has been the governmentally set limits on so-called "encryption" technologies. Today I am introducing a bill to address this major problem for businesses and users of the Internet.

If the telecommunications law enacted this year is a vehicle to achieve real changes in the ways we interact with each other electronically, my bill is the engine that will allow this vehicle to move forward. The bill would promote the growth of electronic commerce, encourage the widespread availability to strong privacy and security technologies for the Internet, and repeal the out-dated regulations prohibiting the export of encryption technologies.

This legislation is desperately needed because the Clinton administration continues to insist on restricting encryption exports, without regard to the harm this policy has on American businesses' ability to compete in the global marketplace or the ability of American citizens to protect their privacy online. Until we get the federal government out of the way and encourage the development of strong cryptography for the global market, electronic commerce and the potential of the Internet will not be realized.

The last thing the Net needs are repressive and outdated regulations prohibiting the exports of strong privacy and security tools and making sure that the government has copies of the keys to our private communications. Yet this is exactly the situation we have today.

My new bill, the Promotion of Commerce On-Line in the Digital Era (Pro-CODE) Act of 1996, would:

- Allow for the unrestricted export of "mass-market" or "public-domain" encryption programs, including such products as Pretty Good Privacy and popular World Wide Web browsers.

- Require the Secretary of Commerce to allow the unrestricted export of other encryption technologies if products of similar strength are generally available outside the United States.

- Prohibit the federal government from imposing mandatory key-escrow encryption policies on the domestic market and limit the authority of the Secretary of Commerce to set standards for encryption products.

Removing export controls will dramatically increase the domestic availability of strong, easy-to-use privacy and security products and encourage the use of the Internet as a forum of secure electronic commerce. It will also undermine the Clinton Administration's "Clipper" proposals which have used export restrictions as leverage to impose policies that guarantee government access to our encryption keys.

The Pro-CODE bill is similar to a bill I co-authored with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, except that it highlights the importance of encryption to electronic commerce and the need to dramatically change current policy to encourage its growth. My bill does not add any new criminal provisions and does not establish legal requirements for key-escrow agents.

Over the coming months, I plan to hold hearings on this bill and encourage a public debate on the need to change the Clinton Administration's restrictive export control policies. I will need your support as we move forward towards building a global Internet that is good for electronic commerce and privacy. I look forward to working with the Internet community, online activists, and the computer and communications industry as this proposal moves through Congress.

I'd like to hear from you, so please join me on two upcoming online events to talk about the new bill. The first is on America Online in the News Room auditorium at 9 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on May 6. The second will be on Hotwired's Chat at 9 p.m. EDT on May 13.

In the meantime, I need your help in supporting the effort to repeal cryptography export controls. You can find out more by visiting my web page http://www.senate.gov/~burns/. There you will find a collection of encryption education resources that my Webmaster has assembled. I trust that the entire Internet community, from the old-timers to those just starting to learn about encryption, will find this information useful.

This bill is vital to all Americans, from everyday computer users and businesses to manufacturers of computer software and hardware. I very much look forward to working with you on this issue.

Conrad Burns
United States Senator