The Administration appreciates the support provided in H.R. 1903 for
reinforcing the role of the Commerce Department, especially the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in its work to promote strong
computer security practices. However, the Administration opposes House passage
of H.R. 1903, the Computer Security Enhancement Act of 1997, unless it is
amended to delete Section 7.
Section 7 would require NIST to evaluate the foreign availability and strength
of encryption technologies subject to U.S. export controls. The regulations
that implement U.S. export control policy already provide a mechanism for
assessing availability and strength of foreign encryption products. The
Administration believes that the availability of encryption technologies from
sources outside the United States is but one of many factors that should bear
on export control determinations. Moreover, Section 7 would inappropriately
put NIST, a non-regulatory agency, in the position of second guessing the
existing export control process.
The Administration also recommends deletion of four other provisions of H.R.
Section 6, which would require NIST to obtain written recommendations from
the Computer System Security and Privacy Advisory Board prior to submitting
proposed standards and guidelines for Federal computer security to the
Secretary of Commerce. NIST always solicits the views of the Board on proposed
standards for Federal computer security in conjunction with its notice and
comment process. A requirement for formal written Board comment and
recommendations, however, would add significant delay to an already lengthy
Section 8, which would prohibit NIST from adopting standards or carrying
out activities or policies for the establishment of encryption requirements for
use in non-Federal computer systems. NIST does not develop or issue any
required standards for the private sector, but does collaborate with private
sector voluntary consensus standards organizations on standards that will serve
both commercial and government interests. This provision could be read to
preclude such collaboration.
Sections 13(3) and 14, which direct the Under Secretary of Commerce for
Technology to promote the establishment of a national standards-based
infrastructure to support commercial and private uses of encryption, and to
establish a national policy panel for digital signatures. Efforts are underway
in the private sector to develop agreed-upon digital signature standards, and
it is premature to mandate Federally-sponsored national standards at this
time. At a minimum, these provisions should not be interpreted to preclude
on-going private sector efforts to develop a standard-based infrastructure for
confidentiality and authentication.