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Pro-encryption legislation introduced

A bill to lift restrictions on exportation of encryption technology and to prohibit the government from requiring companies to register their encryption codes will be introduced in Congress Friday by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana).

    CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts--A bill to lift all restrictions on exportation of encryption technology and to prohibit the government from requiring companies to register their encryption codes will be introduced in Congress Friday by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana).

    Called the Commerce Online in the Digital Era Act, the legislation is intended to encourage the use of encryption software such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) that encrypts, or codes, files and messages for transmission over the Internet or other public networks. Until recently, the law classified encryption technology as munitions and restricted the exportation of technology that uses anything greater than 40-bit keys, a minimum level of protection that hackers have found easy to crack.

    "Eventually, all commerce will be done over this glass highway," Burns said during a teleconference at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference here this week. "We have to have confidence that it is protected. Any hacker can break a 40-bit key," said Burns, who sits on the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Technology.

    Burns and a group of bipartisan cosponsors want to lift all restrictions on the use and exportation of encryption and to block the Clinton administration from implementing a "key escrow system" that would require companies to give the government the codes needed to break their encryption keys. The administration argues that the government must have the ability to decode encrypted software that is exported from the United States in the interest of national security.

    A similar bill loosening the regulations for encryption exportation was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) earlier this month.

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