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Netizens rally for new cause: security

A new coalition tomorrow will rally cybercitizens around another cause celebre--privacy and security.

A new Internet coalition will tomorrow exhort the Net community to band together in support of another online cause celebre, this time privacy and security, just as new encryption technology heads for a vote in Congress.

The Internet Privacy Coalition (IPC) will tomorrow announce the Golden Key campaign. The coalition is asking individuals and companies like Netscape Communications to display a golden key and envelope on their home page to show support for encryption technology. The group says its intent is to educate users about security issues on the Internet and to bring together companies, cryptographers, and public interest organizations to promote privacy and security online.

The campaign follows the highly successful Blue Ribbon campaign organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to show support for free speech on the Internet.

The coalition's membership list includes many of the individuals and organizations that backed the Blue Ribbon campaign, including the EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, RSA Data Security, and Voters Telecommunications Watch.

"The campaign is a great way to create awareness and educate people about the cryptography issue," said Jim Bidzos, president and CEO of RSA.

The campaign is also intended to stir support for new legislation already introduced in Congress that will loosen current regulations governing the use of encryption technology. Encryption is now classified as a military weapon, specifically munitions, and is therefore under tight export and usage controls.

"There's very little knowledge online about what encryption is and how important it is," said Stanton McCandlish, an online activist with the EFF. "In order to get our crypto export regulations deregulated, we need to take action, which won't happen until people know it's an issue."

Congress is also taking action on the issue. Last month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) introduced the Encrypted Communications Privacy Act, and Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-Vermont) introduced the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act. Leahy's proposal aims to loosen the rules that govern the use of encryption and ease export restrictions on encryption products, while Goodlatte's bill would affirm the rights of U.S. citizens to use and sell encryption.

This week, Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) introduced a bill called the Commerce Online in the Digital Era Act, which also aims to relax export controls on encryption products. Hearings on Burns's bill is expected to begin in early June.

"The Leahy and Goodlatte bills are a sign that it's just not physically, economically, or democratically realistic for the government to get involved," said McCandlish.

Coalition members say a broader use of encryption technology is particularly critical to the growth of electronic commerce because it will allow vendors to better secure the secrecy of sensitive transactions, like the exchange of credit card numbers over the Net.

"Encryption is critical to electronic commerce and the government can't control it. The sooner they get out, the better off we will be," said Bidzos. "I think that the bills are a sign that the explosion of electronic commerce is making the economic interest so strong that its' going to take over the government interest."

Coalition representatives say that they do not object to the right of the government to decrypt messages as part of a lawful investigations.

Copies of the Golden Key are available at the IPC home page.

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