Statement of Sen. Conrad Burns on "Key Recovery" Proposal

For immediate release:
Tuesday, October 1, 1996

Contact: Matt Raymond (202) 224-8150
Randall Popelka (202) 224-6137

Burns Cautious on Encryption Plan

Oversight Vowed for Plan That "Raises More Questions Than It Answers"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Montana Senator Conrad Burns today reacted cautiously to plans by the Clinton administration to loosen restrictions on exports of stronger encryption for computer software and hardware. He also criticized the White House for its failure to negotiate on the cornerstone of its proposals: that companies must agree to "escrow" their decryption keys.

"I have no doubt that it was the pressure of Congress, high-tech companies and privacy advocates that dragged the White House kicking and screaming into agreeing that export restrictions should be eased," said Burns, chief sponsor of the Pro-CODE bill, which would loosen restrictions on encryption exports and prohibit government-mandated key escrow. "However, I can't say I'm pleased with a process that has all but excluded Congress and the public from the discussion.

"The administration's insistence on key escrow as a condition of lifting these restrictions has never been negotiable." Meanwhile, what choice do these companies have but to yield as their global competitiveness withers on the vine?

"This plan raises even more questions than it answers, such as, what about the widespread availability of much stronger encryption that which is allowed by the White House? How do we deal with rapid changes in technology that will inevitably render the 56-bit limit obsolete? The devil is definitely in the details.

"This debate is not over by any stretch of the imagination. The administration has prevented Congress from weighing in on this issue just as support was building for a legislative solution. I intend to move forward with pro-encryption legislation in the next Congress.

"I will also push for vigorous oversight of the administration's plan in the Commerce Committee." The Senate Commerce Committee, of which Burns is a member, has jurisdiction over the Commerce Department. The administration has stated its intent to transfer export licensing authority over encryption from the State Department to the Commerce Department."

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