NRC study recommends encryption use

The White House faces more opposition in its drive for Internet encryption.

The latest Clinton administration attempt to establish Internet encryption policy has run into more opposition in Washington, as the National Research Council today released a commission report encouraging the federal government to promote widespread commercial use of encryption technologies.

The report, commissioned by Congress and funded by the Pentagon and the Commerce Department, concluded that the commercial benefits of relaxed export controls on encryption technology, as well as the privacy benefits for "law-abiding citizens," outweigh the government's need to decrypt encoded messages.

The administration has recently proposed that it would loosen export laws, but only in return for a key escrow system that would require encryption vendors to register decryption keys with the government. Law enforcement agencies empowered by a court order would then be able to confiscate and decode messages considered as evidence in criminal cases or matters of national security.

But the report nevertheless acknowledged that encryption technology was a "double-edged sword" and would "add to the burden of those in government...charged with carrying out certain law enforcement and intelligence activities."

The National Research Council is an agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

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