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Crypto Controls are Spreading Internationally

By David Banisar Five years ago, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and

Development (OECD) released their guidelines for cryptography policy, crypto

advocates cheered and declared victory. After a hard fought battle, we had

forced the OECD to back away from the U.S. government's efforts to restrict

encryption worldwide. After the guidelines, countries around the world

issued crypto policies that called for the free and unfettered use of

encryption products to promote e-commerce and protect privacy. Eventually,

even the U.S. gave up anddropped most export controls. In the last EPIC

Cryptography and Privacy survey, written in 2000, there were only a handful

of nations that still restricted crypto, like Burma, Belarus, and Russia --

countries you really didn't want to go to anyway.

We expected a golden era of privacy and security, with encryption allowing

us to protect our computers and communications from attacks, make purchases

with digital cash, and anonymously browse the net. Once crypto was out in

the world it would become ubiquitous and could never be restricted again. We

even got complacent. We moved onto new battles.

It's time to wake up again. Worldwide, there is now a movement back towards

restrictions in the name of fighting cybercrime and terrorism. And we are

losing again.

The trend started before September 11. In the U.K., the Regulation of

Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act allows police, tax collectors and others to

imprison for two years users who refuse to hand over the plaintext of

communications, or the keys to unlock them. The government hasn't figured

out how to manage the details, so the RIP Act is not yet in force, but given

that the government recently attempted to extend the act to allow Internet

surveillance by postal workers and the local town councilors, it seems

likely that when they do implement it, it will be in the worst possible way.

Similarly, the Council of Europe (COE) cybercrime convention requires

countries that sign on to enact laws allowing police to demand keys in the

name of providing international assistance. In December 2001, the Australian

government enacted a new law on cybercrime that includes the ability to

throw users in jail who don't give up their keys. Attorney General Daryl

Williams said that Australia was required by the COE convention to adopt

the provision -- a disingenuous claim, since they are not a signatory and

are not bound by the treaty. The New Zealand Law Commission considered doing

the same, but decided to only require that third parties assist in

decryption efforts, due to concerns over forcing suspects to incriminate


IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL. In France, advocates cheered in 1999 when the French government dismantled

what the NSA described (perhaps admiringly) as "the most comprehensive

cryptologic control and use regime in Europe, and possibly worldwide." Three

years later, the Parliament approved the "Loi sur la S?urit?? Quotidienne"

(LSQ) that requires users to give up their keys, or face three years in

prison. Mon Dieu!

In South Africa, the fear of crime, wielded deftly by an increasingly

repressive government, is steering the democratic system down the road of

its totalitarian predecessor. A new Electronic Communications and

Transactions bill recently passed in the parliament and is awaiting the

president's signature. It would require that all providers of encryption

services operating in South Africa register with the government. A

"cyber-inspector" corps would be set up to investigate and ensure


Not to be outdone, the Netherlands -- liberal by reputation, but with over

10,000 wiretaps a year quite aggressive in domestic spying -- is even

discussing key escrow again. They would require trusted third parties to

house copies of every encryption key used by anyone. It doesn't seem to

matter to them that the concept was thoroughly discredited years ago by the

rest of the world.

Meanwhile, virtually none of the cryptographic killer apps we fought for are

being used.

DigiCash is gone, PGP has been orphaned, and ZKS dropped Freedom and is

selling consulting services to stay alive. Not exactly a golden era.

About the only country where it seems safe to use crypto is the U.S. After

years of being caned by industry and privacy groups to relax export rules

and ignore the FBI's push for crypto controls, the bureaucrats and

politicians must have learned this was a no-win situation. So when Senator

Judd Gregg (R-NH) reacted to September 11 by suggesting that all crypto

without backdoors be banned, the howls were strong for him to drop the plan

within weeks, and nothing was included in the USA Patriot Act.

This shows that vigilance is still important in the U.S. But we can't afford

to be complacent internationally either. If the rest of the world adopts

restrictions, we will once again be facing the argument that America must

restrict crypto, because everyone else is doing so. It we don't use it, we

will lose it. SecurityFocus Online columnist David Banisar is a research fellow at the

Harvard Information Infrastructure Project at the Kennedy School of

Government at Harvard University and Deputy-Director of Privacy


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