DOD attacks encryption bill

Senior Defense Department officials yesterday launched a full-scale offensive against a bill that would lift all controls on the export of strong encryption technology, increasing the risk to national security from terrorists, drug cartels and other criminals, the officials said.

Testifying before the military procurement subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, deputy secretary of Defense John Hamre called the Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act "fatally flawed in ways that will have severe consequences for national security."

Introduced in Feb. by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the SAFE Act would eliminate many export controls on powerful commercial encryption software or software available free over the Internet. The bill also would abolish any requirement to provide mandatory mechanisms for encryption key recovery in computer hardware or software that would allow government and law enforcement agencies access to the encrypted information.

However, members of the defense and intelligence communities argue that the free export of powerful encryption products overseas would undermine the government's ability to intercept the communications of terrorists and other criminal organizations that might be planning acts of violence.

"The immediately decontrol of encryption exports would accelerate the use of encryption by many [U.S. adversaries], and as a result much of the crucial information we are able to gather today could quickly become unavailable," said Barbara McNamara, deputy director of the National Security Agency.

"Immediate decontrol will undermine international efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and catch terrorists, drug traffickers and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction," McNamara said.

Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he agreed that immediate deregulation "carries serious national security risks" and that greater attention must be paid to a portion of the bill that would "gut" the restrictions mandated by Congress on the export of supercomputers.

"It would be tragically ironic," said Spence, "for Congress to make it easier for terrorists to conceal their planning at the same time we are working to enhance the security of all Americans against terrorist threats through initiatives, such as improved embassy security," he said.

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