Why Is the Encryption Policy Debate Important to Internet Users?
A debate is raging in Washington DC over the future of privacy and security on the Net. On one side, the Administration, NSA and FBI continue to press for a policy of export controls and government access to private encrypted communications through "key recovery" or "key escrow" systems. On the other, Congress, led by Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) in the house, are working to pass legislation to encourage the widespread availability of strong, easy-to-use encryption technologies.
Encryption technologies are the locks and keys of the Information age -- enabling individuals and businesses to protect sensitive information as it is transmitted over the Internet. As more and more individuals and businesses come online, the need for strong, reliable, easy-to-use encryption technologies has become a critical issue to the health and viability of the Net.
The Encryption Policy Resource Page has been set up by privacy advocates and encryption policy experts to provide a one stop site for information on the this issue. This site is set up to be fair but not objective -- we definitely have a point of view, but we want to provide a complete resource and will make every effort to represent both sides of the issue. Among the things you will find here:
Current US encryption policy, which limits the strength of encryption products US companies can sell abroad, also limits the availability of strong, easy-to-use encryption technologies in the United States. US hardware and software manufacturers who wish to sell their products on the global market must either conform to US encryption export limits or produce two separate versions of the same product, a costly and complicated alternative.
The export controls, which the NSA and FBI argue help to keep strong encryption out of the hands of foreign adversaries, are having the opposite effect. Strong encryption is available abroad, but because of the export limits and the confusion created by nearly four years of debate over US encryption policy, strong, easy-to-use privacy and security technologies are not widely available off the shelf or "on the net" here in the US. Because of this policy problem, US companies are now at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.
All of us care about our national security, and no one wants to make it any easier for criminals and terrorists to commit criminal acts. But we must also recognize encryption technologies can also aid law enforcement and protect national security by limiting the threat of industrial espionage and foreign spying.
What's at stake in this debate is nothing less than the future of privacy and the fate of the Internet as a secure and trusted medium for commerce, education, and political discourse.