Electronic Frontier Foundation Sues to Overturn Cryptography Restrictions

Article excerpt

In a move aimed at expanding the growth and spread of privacy and security technologies, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is sponsoring a federal lawsuit, filed in February, seeking to bar the government from restriction, publication of cryptographic documents and software. EFF argues that the export-control laws, both on their face and as applied to users of cryptographic materials, are unconstitutional.

Cryptography, defined as "the science and study of secret writing," concerns the ways in which communications and data can be encoded to prevent disclosure of their contents through eavesdropping or message interception. The desktop-computer revolution has made it possible for cryptographic techniques to become widely used and accessible to nonexperts.

EFF believes that cryptography is central to the preservation of privacy and security in an increasingly computerized and networked world. It asserts that many of the privacy and security violations alleged in the Kevin Mitnick case, such as the theft of credit card numbers, the reading of other people's electronic mail, and the hijacking of other people's computer accounts, could have been prevented by widespread deployment of this technology. The U.S. government has opposed such deployment.

The plaintiff in the suit is a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley named Daniel J. Bernstein. Bernstein developed an encryption equation, or algorithm, and wishes to publish the algorithm, a mathematical paper that describes and explains the algorithm, and a computer program that runs the algorithm.

The government currently treats cryptographic software as if it were a physical weapon and highly regulates its dissemination, says the EFF. Any individual or company who wants to export such software - or publish on the Internet any "technical data" such as papers describing encryption software or algorithms - must obtain a license from the State Department. …