Pubdate: Sat, 03 July 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Joseph D. McNamara, Hoover Institution at Stanford University
Note: Original:


Robert Novak says that legislation ending export controls over encryption
systems would interfere with America's winning the drug war [op-ed, June
28]. Thirty-five years in law enforcement convinces me that inhibiting
American companies in developing and marketing secure encryption systems
will actually increase crime.

In 1972, when Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, the annual federal
budget for the war was around $101 million. Next year, it will be $17.8
billion. Despite the doubling of wiretaps, vast increases in the number of
people incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes and budgetary increases for
drug enforcement that boggle the mind, drug trafficking has flourished.

The nation is afloat in illegal drugs, drug money, drug corruption and drug
trade violence. Drugs are cheaper and more potent, opium production has
doubled, heroin use is increasing, overdose deaths and drug emergency room
visits are up, and adolescent drug use has increased by almost 40 percent.

Yet in the face of such failure, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the
FBI request unprecedented powers to eavesdrop, even though they admit that
terrorists and other criminals already make use of secure encryption.

The genie of technology cannot be put back into the bottle. If American
companies do not develop and market these systems, other nations will.

History shows that treatment is far more effective than law enforcement in
solving drug problems. When I was police chief of San Jose during the 1980s,
crime was increasing nationally. But it declined in San Jose to the point
where it became the safest large city in America. Crime decreased not
because police powers were expanded but because the technology industry in
Silicon Valley provided plentiful jobs, prosperity and incentives for good

If Congress denies the technology industry a level playing field, the
thriving American economy that helped lead to seven straight years of
decreasing crime will suffer. And unemployment and crime do more to weaken
the world's leading power than any drug lord or terrorist could.

Joseph D. McNamara

The writer, a former police chief of Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, is a
research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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