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ACLU opposes deviant Markey-White version of SAFE



The House Commerce committee approved the deviant Markey-White amendments
as a "compromise" package.

Note: "It is now clear that any version of this bill will be used to attack
domestic encryption protection."

-Declan

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   Contact: Emily Whitfield (212) 549-2566
Thursday, September 25, 1997    Phil Gutis (202) 675-2312

WASHINGTON -- Citing civil liberties concerns, the House Commerce Committee
late yesterday overwhelmingly beat back an attempt by law enforcement to
hijack what had been introduced as a pro-privacy encryption bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the original version of
 H.R. 695, the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act ("SAFE") applauded
the committee's action, but said it could not support the new version of
SAFE, which contains a new set of civil liberties problems.

"We survived the hijacking only to find that we are still in enemy
territory," said Donald Haines, Legislative Counsel on privacy and cyberspace
issues for the ACLU's Washington National Office. "It is now clear that any
version of this bill will be used to attack domestic encryption protection.
Therefore, the ACLU strongly opposes bringing any encryption legislation to
the floor at this time."

The amendment that was rejected yesterday sought to reverse the original
intent of SAFE, a bill that would ease controls on export of strong
encryption technology.  Sponsored by Reps. Michael Oxley, R-OH, and Thomas
Manton, D-NY, it would have given law enforcement agencies easy access to
every private computer file, e-mail, telephone conversation, and online
communication in America. By providing this "backdoor" for law enforcement,
the ACLU said the amendment would leave a door open to others seeking
unauthorized access to private communications.

But in rejecting the law enforcement power grab, the Committee essentially
re-wrote the SAFE bill, adopting amendments that would:

 Establish a "codebreaking" center for law enforcement that would improperly
involve the National Security Agency (NSA) in domestic affairs.
 Reinstate an objectionable provision in the original SAFE bill that would
criminalize, for the first time ever, the use of domestic encryption.
 Double the penalties for criminal use of encryption, up to a maximum of 20
years in prison.
 Provide immunity for anyone who turns over encryption "keys" to law
enforcement, setting the stage for a mandatory "back door" for law
enforcement access to private files and communications.

"We were heartened that privacy and free speech were cited by so many
committee members as the reason why the FBI amendment had to be rejected,"
Haines said. "We now call upon all members of the House to take these
fundamental civil liberties into account in considering any bill addressing
the use of encryption."

With yesterday's vote, the last of five versions of the SAFE bill may now
proceed to the House Rules Committee for a decision on how the bill will be
presented to the House.  The chairman of that committee, Gerald Solomon,
R-NY, has vowed publicly to block any version of SAFE that does not have the
Oxley-Manton amendment.

In a letter sent to members of the Commerce Committee yesterday, the ACLU
joined a broad spectrum of groups in calling for "no compromise on privacy
protection by encryption." The letter urged the members to oppose the
Oxley-Manton amendment, as well as  any  attempts to limit the right of all
Americans to get and use whatever encryption protection they want.

The letter was signed by the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, The Eagle Forum,
Electronic Privacy Information Center, Privacy International and the United
States Privacy Council.

"All efforts, direct and indirect, to restrict our right to the greatest
possible privacy protection must be rejected," Haines said.  "Whether you are
sending sensitive corporate documents or your family's travel plans, you have
a right to speak privately."

The last three committees to act on SAFE (National Security, Intelligence and
Commerce) have all added anti-privacy provisions, while bills from the
Judiciary and International Affairs committees lack provisions to protect
First Amendment rights in the the use of encryption.  Both those bills also
contain the criminalization provision present in the other bills, although
without the even stiffer penalties added to the new version of SAFE.

A group of leading scientific, educational and engineering organizations also
voiced their opposition yesterday to any legislation imposing strict domestic
controls on encryption.   The groups said that the amendment would have a
"grave effect" on cryptographic research in the United States, and  could
also negatively impact U.S. commerce while benefiting overseas companies not
subject to controls.

Encryption programs scramble information so that it can only be read with a
"key" -- a code the recipient uses to unlock the scrambled electronic data.
As more of our messages are sent via computers, digital switches, and
wireless phones, they must be encrypted, otherwise our messages can be seized
and read by others.

There are no laws that now prohibit using as strong encryption as possible
inside the United States. But, unless keys are made available to the
government, the Clinton Administration bans export of encryption equipment
and software, treating the products as "munitions."

In response to these continued attacks on privacy rights, the ACLU this
summer launched Take Back Your Data!, a nationwide citizen campaign to fight
for legal reforms to privacy laws and resist further encroachments on the
right to privacy.  Through its website at www.aclu.org, the ACLU urges
visitors to contact their elected officials and voice support for or
opposition to pending legislation.

In addition, the ACLU said that it is drafting omnibus privacy legislation
that would, if adopted, fulfill the basic goals of the Take Back Your Data!
campaign.  The legislation will be unveiled later this fall, followed by a
broad-based effort to encourage members of Congress to co-sponsor the
legislation.