The discussions were prompted by last week's announcement that the 33 nations of the Wassenaar Arrangement would join the United States in limiting encryption to 64 bit keys.
Silicon Valley companies were preaching to the choir. Burns has long been a proponent of free market encryption and last year proposed the Net Center Act. Encryption is software that uses keys -- strings of ones and zeros used to encode messages -- to secure data and communications in the digital age.
After the Secure Computing meeting, Burns said: "The one thing that will cripple this industry is lack of confidence in our security (software)."
Keeper of the keys
He also roundly criticized the Clinton Administration's attempt's to regulate the encryption industry. "This has been an administration that has fought to control everything."
A key sticking point has been law enforcement's stated need to access random data and communications during the surveillance of suspects. FBI director Louis J. Freeh has spoken out against the unregulated export of encryption, and the unregulated use of encryption within the United States.
The industry doesn't think domestic encryption restrictions will happen. "I would be really surprised if domestic restrictions ever worked," said Richard Smith, principal systems engineer with Secure Computing
Fear of terrorism
Freeh's primary argument for regulating encryption has been that, without regulation, widespread use of encryption by criminals will make it impossible to keep tabs on terrorist activities.
Burns said he thought that law enforcement officials would be able to work around encryption. "It will be industry working with national security and law enforcement that will solve the problem," he said.
Burns' Net Center Act proposes just such a liaison between government and industry.
Fixated on Monica
However, Congress has been slow to tackle encryption this year, and, with the Starr Report looming large on the minds of legislators, the matters may be delayed next year as well. "I would hope that (Intern Gate) would not delay legislation," he said, "We are going to try to get crypto policy on the schedule."
Burns also discussed the power of electronic commerce.
In a recent trip to China it was e-commerce and the Internet that had Chinese officials worried most, he said. "If there is one thing in China that they are afraid of it's this industry," he said.
The good old days
Burns also gave his thoughts on the Microsoft antitrust trial -- comparing the software giant's ongoing antitrust trial to the John D. Rockefeller Sr.'s Standard Oil antitrust battle early this century.
While the antitrust trial would hurt Microsoft a little, Burns said, even if the suit is unsuccessful "like the Rockefeller suit it should allow a lot of competition to emerge."