OTTAWA -- Fourteen of Canada's leading cryptographers -- experts in the coding and decoding of messages -- have signed letters opposing government regulation of cryptography. The letters were delivered to the Task Force on Electronic Commerce today at a roundtable meeting on cryptography hosted by Industry Canada.
The letters were written in response to a February 1998 Industry Canada report entitled "A Cryptography Policy Framework for Electronic Commerce", which listed possible scenarios for government regulation of cryptographic hardware and software. Dr. David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a non-profit civil liberties group, delivered the letters this morning in Ottawa.
"Cryptography is essential for the transition to a wired society", said Jones. "It is the key enabling technology that will allow Canadians to keep our personal information and communications private without fear of eavesdropping, as well as safeguard the security of our online transactions, without fear of fraud. If the government places restrictions on the use of cryptography, it would likely do more harm than good."
The Industry Canada report suggests that, in deference to law enforcement and national security concerns, one policy option might be to ban cryptographic products that do not allow the government to listen in.
But Canada's leading cryptographers claim such a ban would be infeasible. Dr. Charles Rackoff, professor of computer science at the University of Toronto and author of several fundamental papers on cryptography, stated that prohibition of such products "would be unenforceable in practice, since the basic mathematical methods are published and well known and can be easily implemented in software by any bright high-school student."
Indeed, three of the signers, Dr. Scott Vanstone and Dr. Alfred J. Menezes of the University of Waterloo, and Dr. Paul C. van Oorschot, have written and published a book entitled Handbook of Applied Cryptography (CRC Press, 1997) that describes the mathematics of encryption in great detail.
Canada's cryptographers also expressed concern that export controls on cryptographic products would adversely affect the fledgling Canadian cryptography industry. Additional restriction would "severely handicap Canadian products and technology as they compete in the global market for information security products", said Dr. Menezes.
Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, Vice-President of Electronic Frontier Canada agreed: "Cryptographic software and hardware has the potential to be a billion-dollar industry. If Canada is to take part, it must ease its export restrictions, not strengthen them."
Electronic Frontier Canada is a non-profit educational organization devoted to ensuring the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are preserved as new computing and communications technologies emerge.
The list of signers of the the letters follows. AFFILIATIONS ARE FOR IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES ONLY. Signers do not speak for the institutions that employ them, and the opinions of the signers do not necessarily reflect those of the employing institution.