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Saturday, September 19, 1998 Published at 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK


Rights group backs encryption

A coalition of lobby groups, including Human Rights Watch, is urging governments not to tighten laws limiting the export of encryption.

Human Rights Watch says encryption - and cryptographic products - are critical to the ability of human rights defenders around the world "to transmit sensitive information without detection by repressive governments."

Representatives of 33 countries are meeting in Vienna to review the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, which aims to limit the export of "conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use technologies."

Powerful encryption software, designed to prevent anyone except the designated receiver from intercepting and reading messages, has been treated as a weapon requiring an export license by some of the countries who signed the arrangement, including the US.

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign, an umbrella organization backed by Human Rights Watch, fears that the US, France, Australia and other countries with comparatively restrictive controls could encourage others to follow their lead.

On Wednesday, the US loosened its export restrictions slightly, allowing American companies to export 56-bit encryption to all but a few 'rogue nations', but many experts say this level of encryption can easily be broken by a determined individual or organization.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation, one of the members of the GILC, was not impressed by the new law.

"It continues to sacrifice privacy and security for law enforcement and intelligence agency convenience," the Foundation said.

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