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Update from the House Commerce Committee hearing room

I'm sitting on the steps of the Rayburn House office building right now
waiting for the committee to resume deliberations on the SAFE encryption
bill. They've adjourned to vote on unrelated legislation on the House floor.

Right now it seems as though votes are split between Rep. White's
"compromise" legislation (that includes a cash payoff to the FBI and
doubling of crypto-in-a-crime penalties while relaxing some export rules)
and Rep. Oxley's proposal that includes domestic controls on encryption. If
I had to bet, though, I'd put my money on Oxley. Law enforcement arguments
about pedophiles generally trump discussions of privacy rights.

If White's proposal fails and Oxley's goes through, industry groups are
hoping they can keep themselves from being entirely screwed by pushing
through a third amendment that apparently would replace SAFE entirely with
a five-month study. (But who would appoint the people conducting the study?
Law enforcement? It's unclear.)

Rep. Solomon, chair of the powerful House Rules committee -- through which
SAFE must pass before it gets to the floor -- earlier today circulated a
letter asking members to support the Oxley amendment. "If this language is
not incorporated into the bill, as the Chairman of the House Rules
Committee I will not move the bill to the floor!" it says.

FBI director Louis Freeh, DEO head Thomas Constantine, and Raymond Kelley
(undersecretary for enforcement, Treasury Department) also sent a letter
earlier today to the Commerce Committee endorsing Oxley's amendment "on
behalf of the entire law enforcement community."

They don't seem to be exaggerating. The International Association of Chiefs
of Police on September 22 said just that. So did the National Sherrifs'
Association yesterday. And the National District Attorneys Association on
September 19. And the Major Cities Chiefs on September 23. Plus a few state
police associations.

More soon...


Declan McCullagh
Time Inc.
The Netly News Network
Washington Correspondent