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How to Kill America’s Tech Economy in One Lesson

US Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are at it again. They’ve released a “discussion draft” of their “bill to require the provision of data in an intelligible format pursuant to a court order. … if such data has been made unintelligible by a feature, product, or service owned, controlled, created, or provided, by the covered entity or by a third party on behalf of the covered entity.”

In plain English: American tech companies would be legally required to only build encryption technology into their products that they could break pursuant to government demands.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled on why this bill is a terrible idea from a privacy standpoint. To put it succinctly, if a type of encryption can be broken, there’s no way to limit to WHO can break it or for what purposes. So even if you trust the US government — and you shouldn’t — the requirements of this bill would also leave you vulnerable to foreign governments, identity thieves and other financially driven cyber-criminals.

Except that no, it really wouldn’t. The strong crypto genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of decades now. Anyone who really wants encryption can get it now and will still be able to get it if the Burr/Feinstein abomination becomes law. That includes “the bad guys” (terrorists and criminals) and it includes you. The only people affected by this law to a level greater than minor inconvenience will be those who just don’t bother.

Except that no, we’ll all be affected, because this bill is custom-made to destroy the US tech industry … and if Silicon Valley sneezes we’re all going to catch a cold.

Yes, America is the prime combination of large and wealthy as a consumer technology market. There are 320 million of us and we’re all rich by comparison to, say, the average resident of Benin City or Budapest or Beijing.

But the seven billion people in those other places do buy computers and smart phones and software. If this bill passes they will continue to buy computers and smart phones and software. They’ll just buy those things from companies that aren’t headquartered in the US or bound by the ignorance and arrogance of the likes of Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein. Why? Because they don’t want Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein reading their mail.

If you’re surprised that Burr and Feinstein would willingly tank the US economy, sending millions of jobs and billions of dollars offshore just to aggrandize their desire for power, you shouldn’t be. That’s what politicians do. Nothing’s more important to a politician than believing he or she is in control. Even if that belief is, as in this case, false.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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