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What will it cost to let Big Brother watch?

[This story was scheduled for page 18 of this week's Time magazine, but got
cut at the last minute and replaced with a Diana investigation update.
Background: Previous CBO cost estimates released in May and July focused on
versions of SAFE that dealt only with exports. This estimate not only
covers the costs of operating snooperware systems; it predicts that some
products may drop crypto and users may abandon its use if such a
requirement exists. Enjoy. --Declan]


What Will It Cost To Let Big Brother Watch?
By Declan McCullagh

High tech firms battling what they call an Orwellian
anti-privacy bill in Congress are challenging a new
government study. Last Friday the Congressional Budget
Office stuck a price tag on a bill that would ban the
manufacture of telephones, computers, and software
that the FBI can't easily monitor. The amount
consumers would pay: an estimated $200 million to $2
billion a year.

But technology groups say the true cost would be
astronomical. "It would be the greatest technological
challenge the U.S. software industry is facing today,
larger than the year 2000 problem. We don't know how
to do this," says Jon Englund of the Information
Technology Association of America. He says that since
the CBO study focuses on computer programs and not the
Internet, the true cost would be hundreds of billions
higher. A huge chunk of existing technology would have
to be redesigned, and plans to protect cyberspace from
eavesdroppers would be derailed.

That's an acceptable tradeoff, say the plan's backers.
"Organized crime, drug organizations, and terrorist
organizations have the ability to use encryption and
render law enforcement folks unable to have access,"
says Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), a backer of the
FBI's plan. The House Commerce committee is scheduled
to vote on Oxley's proposal on Thursday.

Declan McCullagh
Time Inc.
The Netly News Network
Washington Correspondent