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9 December 1998. Thanks to Dan Tebbutt for permission to mirror.
A US-led push to curtail the spread of unbreakable computer communications technologies gained momentum in Vienna last week when 33 leading nations including Australia agreed to restrict mass-market encryption products.
The move came hand in hand with decisions that deregulated weaker forms of encryption and removed controls over purely consumer technologies like DVD and cordless telephones.
The changes were hailed as a victory by the US Government, which had lobbied other countries to embrace its restrictive stance against encryption.
Previously only the US, Australia, New Zealand, France and Russia imposed export controls on mass market encryption products such as Web browsers, email applications, electronic commerce servers and telephone scrambling software.
David Aaron, President Clinton's special envoy on cryptography, said the new rules would give governments legal authority over many mass market software exports that were not previously covered.
"This enables governments to review the dissemination of the strongest encryption products that might fall into the hands of rogue end users," Mr Aaron said in a statement on a US Government Web site.
Before the latest agreement, generally available encryption software was exempt from export restrictions under the Wassenaar Arrangement, a protocol that governs the international arms trade.
Computer security products were historically subjected to munitions controls in order to stem the proliferation of advanced data scrambling technologies that prevented eavesdropping by police and security forces.
The new changes impose greater restrictions on overseas developers whose products incorporate strong encryption.
Vendors like IBM, Sun, Microsoft and Netscape have lobbied against export restrictions that stopped them exporting Internet and enterprise products which included reliable security.
But the local impact will be limited because Australian law already gave the Department of Defence power over mass market exports.
Defence authorities were supporting the push for more restrictions, as The Australian reported on June 30. Other key decisions at the Wassenaar meeting included:
It was not immediately clear whether the new restrictions intended to stop public domain software such as the popular email security package PGP.
Although Australia prohibited unlicensed export of public domain encryption, the Wassenaar treaty provided an exemption.
A Canadian source confirmed public domain software would remain unregulated even after the clampdown on mass market products.
The Wassenaar revisions require local legislation by each member nation, but in the past year several signatories including Canada, Ireland and Finland have announced pro-cryptography policies.
This article was published in The Australian, 8 December 1998, page 36.
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