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Gore calls for piracy crackdown

Vice President Al Gore announces a directive that federal agencies must crack down on pirated software at a software industry conference.

WASHINGTON--Addressing the Software Publishers Association this morning, Vice President Al Gore issued a directive to federal agencies, ordering them to crack down on pirated software in their departments, a hot-button issue for the industry.

"We will charge our council of chief technology officers to create uniform policies for checking software licenses and responding appropriately to any illegal software," Gore said.

Although SPA officials doubt much pirated software is used in the federal government, the directive could help industry efforts to get foreign governments to crack down on piracy in their nations.

"We welcome this directive. The government should be treated in the same way as the private sector," said Ken Wasch, SPA president, who noted that the vice president's order is largely symbolic. The SPA contends that the lack of an antipiracy policy in the U.S. government is frequently raised by foreign governments when the SPA asks them to address software piracy concerns in their nations.

Gore also reiterated the administration's policy on encryption.

He said the policy remains unchanged in that it must straddle legal and economic concerns. "We need to find ways to work together on issues of balancing law enforcement vs. software protection. It's crucial that we find new ways to protect our most basic liberties so that we can communicate in safety."

John Warnock, chief executive of Adobe Systems, generally praised the VP's speech, which ran 40 minutes and displayed a sense of humor that's not usually associated with Gore's persona.

"If the administration would change its policy on encryption, we would be in sync," Warnock said afterwards.

In advance of the speech, SPA officials had privately urged the White House to clarify a split within the administration on encryption policy.

"We would love to see the administration back off from the FBI's position," an SPA source had said before Gore's speech, referring to FBI director Louis Freeh's comments last week to a Senate subcommittee in support of domestic encryption controls. (See related story)

"If that's not the administration's position, then the administration needs to clarify its stance," the source added.

Instead, Gore stood pat on the administration's most controversial stance on all the high-tech issues, to the obvious relief of National Security Agency representatives in the audience. The intelligence agency continues to push hard against relaxing the rules on exporting strong encryption in U.S. software.

As reported yesterday by CNET's NEWS.COM, the Clinton administration has given "technical assistance" in drafting proposed legislation that would put mandatory controls on the domestic use of encryption, according to Commerce Department spokesman Eugene Cottilli.

But Cottilli added that "the administration is not circulating the bill. I don't know that they have a position until they know exactly what emerges."

The FBI's Freeh made comments to a Senate subcommittee last week that were supportive of domestic encryption controls. But after the remarks, the White House distanced itself from his testimony. (See related story)

U.S. law has long controlled the export of encryption, which scrambles email, computer files, and phone calls so they are unintelligible to eavesdroppers, but has never regulated domestic uses of the technology.

Ira Magaziner, the Clinton administration official who spearheaded the yearlong effort to develop the White House's Internet commerce position paper, is expected to elaborate on Gore's comments in a luncheon address.

Also, David Aarons, dubbed the "crypto czar" because Clinton has put him in charge of handling the encryption, is scheduled to address SPA convention attendees this afternoon.

In one area appealing to the audience, the vice president endorsed a recent SPA report on the role of computers in education, which concluded technology is effective in improving learning.

But Gore also challenged the software executives to do more in education to let parents control what kind of content their children may encounter on the Internet and guard privacy rights--all areas where the White House has said it prefers private sector initiatives, not government action.

"We are changing from an analog to a digital world, but the basic rights of the American people have not changed," he said. "Many of basic protections of people are missing in cyberspace.