Stupid Senate Tricks

Declan McCullagh declan at
Fri Sep 5 16:36:11 UTC 1997

Some TGIF humor. Last message on crypto from me, I promise! --Declan

The Netly News Network (
September 5, 1997

Stupid Senate Tricks        
by Declan McCullagh (declan at

        What do you get when you mix discussions of high technology and
   the Internet with the weak minds of the aging techno-half-wits in the
   U.S. Congress? Answer: a screwball dialogue that veers haphazardly
   between the idiotic and inane.    
        From the infamous father of the Communications Decency Act to the
   California senator who confuses computer mice with real rodents,
   Washington lawmakers rarely have a clue about the technology they try 
   to regulate. Now that Congress is back in session, the lawmakers will
   once again be muddling through press conferences and briefings with
   the help of hovering aides. But sometimes they try to make a go of it
   on their own -- and then the results aren't pretty.


        Encryption, however, remains the topic most likely to transform 
   articulate legislators into babbling birdbrains. In July, the House
   International Relations Committee was desperately seeking a metaphor 
   to explain the effect of permitting the export of data-scrambling  
   software. Then came the moment of bovine intervention: "Do we open the
   doors to let all the cows out?" asked one member. An FBI official 
   replied, "There are many, many still left inside the barn." No, said
   Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif), "The cows are tromping all over America. Cows  
   can replicate. They're being born all over the world. There's plenty
   of beef available!"

        When Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) was asked to define encryption, the
   results were horrific. "Well, I mean, to answer your question, I mean,
   encryption is -- the political equivalent of encryption is you ask me
   a question, I give you an answer and you don't understand it," he    
   managed. "I mean, I intentionally garble the answer frequently. I 
   intentionally garble the response so that you can't understand what
   I'm saying. And that's -- you notice that I've got the ability to do


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