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The private-doorbell solution

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Last week a dozen high-tech vendors led by Cisco Systems, Inc. joined in filing a product-development proposal at the Department of Commerce, pleading for a Key Management Infrastructure (KMI).

The vendors agreed to build equipment that filters network traffic of targeted suspects on behalf of law enforcement before the suspect's data gets encrypted by firewalls, virtual private network equipment or encryption-enabled routers or switches. The vendors filed to ask for easing of export restrictions for their products under a KMI license.

The plan, dubbed "the private-doorbell solution," would put the network administrator at a corporation or ISP in the role of filtering out a suspect's network traffic before the suspect's traffic gets encrypted, and sending it to law enforcement unencrypted.

Industry proponents of the private doorbell admit the NSA has already said it doesn't like it, making the plan's chances of approval slim even through the FBI -- which also has a hand in approving KMI licenses -- indicated the FBI is somewhat interested in it.

An FBI spokesman called the plan "socially responsible" and "a positive step."

"This represents our best thinking in terms of the network problem," said Dan Scheinman, vice president of legal and government affairs at Cisco. "With respect to national security, though, this does not address a way the NSA can access data." He added that negotiations with the NSA have proved "challenging."

The vendors making the joint proposal expect the Commerce Department to rule on their KMI request within 90 days.

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