Canadian government advocates widespread use of strong cryptographyELECTRONIC FRONTIER CANADA (EFC) --- PRESS RELEASE
"This is very good news", said David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada (EFC), a non-profit organization working to protect free speech and the right to privacy in cyberspace.
In a speech delivered in Ottawa today, Industry Minister John Manley announced Canada's new Cryptography Policy, making it clear that that there will be no mandatory requirements for government access to encryption keys, and no licensing requirements, despite the wishes of law enforcement agencies who sought the capability of a built-in "backdoor" that would enable them to listen in on online communications.
Encryption technology works by using sophisticated mathematical techniques to "scramble" digital information so snoops and eavesdroppers can't gain access to data and communications intended to be private, including email, computer files, and even conversations on digital telephones.
Manley's announcement today was made in anticipation of the upcoming OECD Ministerial Conference on Electronic Commerce, and the associated Conference on the Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy, both being held in Ottawa starting October 7th.
This announcement follows roughly 18 months of deliberation involving a dozen federal departments and considerable public consultation. "We are very pleased that EFC was given the opportunity to play a role in developing this policy", says Jones, who is also a professor at McMaster University, in the Theme School on Science, Technology, and Public Policy. EFC participated in informal discussions with Industry Canada more than a year ago and released a position statement in August, 1997. Following Industry Canada's release of its white paper, "A Cryptography Policy Framework for Electronic Commerce", in February 1998, EFC participated in formal discussions in Ottawa before making a written submission to Industry Canada this April. In their recently released "Analysis of Submissions", Industry Canada took note of EFC's submission because of the inclusion of 14 letters from leading Canadian experts in cryptography who opposed restrictive policy options, and the inclusion of a letter signed by 23 international organizations from the Global Internet Liberty Campaign who are all concerned with defending civil liberties and human rights on the Internet.
"It's been a quite an open, transparent, and inclusive process", says Jeffrey Shallit, co-founder of Electronic Frontier, and a computer science professor at the University of Waterloo's Centre for Applied Cryptography Research. "Canada's approach has been more successful than the one taken in the United States, which over the past several years has seen a whole sequence of failed cryptography policies announced by Washington and then rejected by the Internet community."
Jim Carroll, author of the Canadian Internet Handbook and well known Internet guru, had this to say about today's announcement, "With John Manley, we've got the only guy in the federal government who truly understands the technology and 'gets the Net', and so he's got a lot of respect in the Internet community." These remarks are in stark contrast to the harsh criticism Carroll has expressed about the CRTC's consideration of possible Internet regulation.
In his speech today, John Manley seemed to agree, "The [Canadian] cryptography industry can only grow if it has the freedom to export." Manley also highlighted the risks of continuing with a restrictive export policy: Canadian high-tech companies "need to tap as many of these overseas markets as possible to keep their highly-paid, highly-qualified jobs here in Canada".
Manley also promised, "We will streamline the export permit process and make it more transparent". Jones is already familiar with the sometimes slow and unpredictable export process, "I'm still waiting to hear from the Department of Foreign Affairs to learn whether I am permitted to export my own public domain encryption software. And they haven't yet informed me whether I can put the software on my university web page, or whether I can teach fundamental encryption algorithms in computer science courses if there happen to be foreign students in the class."
It's not clear, however, what is meant when the government says it will change the law to 'deter' the use of encryption to commit crimes or conceal evidence, or to compel 'assistance' when police seek to intercept or seize computer data. "Without creating unreasonable obstacles for law enforcement", says Jones, "we need laws that 'encourage' the widespread use of strong encryption for legitimate purposes."
"We'll have to wait and see what the details of these amendments look like", says Shallit, "We don't want the government to be able force individuals to disclose their own encryption keys."
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