Bush Eyes Tech Woes

Online security problems prompt call for export council

As the communications industry weighed security problems early last week at the annual ComNet conference here, just a few blocks away advisers on President Bushs transition team were weighing the creation of a technology export council to address some of those very issues.

For businesses seeking a safer way to communicate over the Internet, the general consensus is that such a council could promote solutions that would bring enormous savings.

Modeled after the Presidents Export Council, created in 1973 to advise the White House on trade matters, a technology council would address security issues as they apply to the online environment and national defense, according to members of the transition team. As envisioned so far, the councils top three priorities would be aerospace exports, computer exports and encryption standardization.

Laws restricting computing power authorized for overseas sales have computer manufacturers lobbying hard this year for updated measurements. In the area of encryption, export restrictions were sufficiently relaxed in recent years. However, online security companies still face difficulties in establishing foreign markets for their products because of a lack of international standardization. Without interoperable security technologies, transnational business-to-business communications online is hampered.

"There is an absolutely compelling reason for businesses to talk to each other online—its billions of dollars in savings," said William Crowell, president and CEO of Cylink Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif., developer of security products using PKI (public-key infrastructure). The lack of product interoperability combined with misperceptions regarding the ease of using encryption and a general failure to acknowledge risk has impeded widespread use of the technology, Crowell said.

While there are ongoing efforts to develop global encryption standards, some regions, including Europe, are pursuing more parochial solutions. The U.S. government historically does not play a direct role in developing technology standards, but it can promote the private sector worldwide to coordinate efforts and work toward a common goal.

Cylink, which recently deployed its NetAuthority PKI product as the certificate authority for the U.S. Postal Services Internet service for mail between government agencies, announced the latest plug-and-play version of the product. "Im surprised that more medium-sized organizations arent jumping on to this," said Crowell, who chairs the encryption subcommittee of the Presidents Export Council. "The products just drop into the network, and they are transparent."

Transition advisers are considering the formation of the technology export council potentially as an alternative to the creation of a sub-Cabinet-level "tech czar," or federal chief information officer, modeled after similar positions at the state level. (See "Bush may push for tech czar," Jan. 15, Page 1.)

While the new administration is widely credited with considerable expertise in technology, the Bush White House does not have a singular IT luminary such as the Clinton administration had in Vice President Al Gore.

The creation of a czar or a council would symbolize the presidents understanding of the importance of technology policy, and it would serve as a liaison between the industry and government.

In addition, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the White House technology advisory agency, is expected to assume an elevated status now. With a Republican in the White House, the small GOP majority in Congress has greater opportunities than ever before to reform both the NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission.

New reform-minded leadership at both agencies will strive to work closely to coordinate technology policy with a more market-based philosophy.

"The NTIA needs to be more efficient, and it should be more sensitive to commercial needs," said Bryan Tramont, legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.

In coordinating new spectrum allocations—something the NTIA and the FCC must do together—Tramont said the NTIAs representation of government spectrum users is not inconsistent with the policy goal of locating new spectrum for the private sector.