[ISN] Crypto Setback in Vienna

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Fri Dec 04 1998 - 18:22:24 PST

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    Forwarded From: Raj Mathur <rajuat_private>
    Crypto Setback in Vienna Reuters
    4:50 p.m.  3.Dec.98.PST
    WASHINGTON - Clinton administration officials said Thursday they have
    persuaded other leading countries to apply the same strict export controls
    on computer data-scrambling products as they apply to weapons. 
    At a meeting on Thursday in Vienna, the 33 nations that have signed the
    Wassenaar Arrangement limiting arms exports -- including Japan, Germany,
    and Britain -- agreed to impose controls on the most powerful
    data-scrambling technologies, including for the first time mass-market
    software, US special envoy for cryptography David Aaron told Reuters. 
    The United States, which restricts exports of a wide range of
    data-scrambling, or encryption, products and software has long sought
    without success to persuade other countries to impose similar
    "We think this is very important in terms of bringing a level playing
    field for our exporters," Aaron said. 
    Leading US high-technology companies, including Microsoft and Intel, have
    complained that the lack of restrictions in other countries hamper their
    ability to compete abroad. The industry has sought to have US restrictions
    relaxed or repealed, but has not asked for tighter controls in other
    Privacy advocates have also staunchly opposed US export controls on
    encryption, arguing that data-scrambling technologies provided a crucial
    means of protecting privacy in the digital age. 
    "It's ironic, but the US government is leading the charge internationally
    to restrict personal privacy and individual liberty around the world,"
    said Alan Davidson, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and
    Technology, a Washington-based advocacy group. 
    Members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign issued a statement in
    September to the 33 participating states of the Wassenaar Arrangement
    calling for the removal of encryption export restrictions from future
    "It is true that crypto used to be an esoteric field really only of
    interest to military and spy agencies," said David Jones, director of the
    Electronic Frontier Canada, in an interview last month. "[But] all of that
    is changing now as people correspond over great distances through the
    Internet and their personal communications are traveling through God knows
    what computers." 
    Special envoy Aaron said the Wassenaar countries agreed to continue export
    controls on powerful encryption products in general but decided to end an
    exemption for widely available software containing such capabilities. 
    "They plugged a loophole," Aaron said. 
    The new policy also reduced reporting and paperwork requirements and
    specifically excluded from export controls products that used encryption
    to protect intellectual property -- such as movies or recordings sent over
    the Internet -- from illegal copying, Aaron said. 
    Encryption uses mathematical formulas to scramble information and render
    it unreadable without a password or software "key." One important measure
    of the strength of the encryption is the length of the software key,
    measured in bits, the ones and zeros that make up the smallest unit of
    computer data. 
    With the increasing speed and falling prices of computers, data encrypted
    with a key 40 bits long that was considered highly secure several years
    ago can now be cracked in a few hours. Cutting-edge electronic commerce
    and communications programs typically use 128-bit or longer keys. 
    Under Thursday's agreement, Wassenaar countries would restrict exports of
    general encryption products using more than 56-bit keys and mass-market
    products with keys more than 64 bits long, Aaron said. 
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