Tuesday, September 15, 1998

Crypto Groups Challenge Arms-Control Treaty

by John Borland, jborland@cmp.com

The civil liberties groups' international lobbying campaign is a new branch of their domestic efforts to loosen U.S. export restrictions. Pro-encryption advocates, along with U.S. high-tech businesses, have long been lobbying Congress and the White House to lift regulations that bar the export of strong data-scrambling software.

To date, Congress and the administration both have balked at lifting the restrictions. The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies have argued the spread of unbreakable encryption would make terrorists, drug dealers, and other criminals harder to catch.

The White House is expected to release a new plan liberalizing some aspects of its encryption policy on Wednesday. But sources said the changes will focus on a specific industry, possibly insurance. The administration already has allowed narrow exceptions to its data-scrambling export restrictions for international financial corporations.

Encryption activists said the United States is unlikely to persuade the other Wassenaar countries to adopt its own encryption policies, and most other trade organizations have moved toward open export principles.

"[Other countries] are making and selling this stuff", said David Banisar, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. They're not interested in restrictions."

Persuading treaty members to lift export controls on hardware and custom cryptography programs is not impossible, he added. "It's really obvious that this has nothing to do with munitions any more", he said.

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Copyright © 1998 by CMP Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.