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France to end severe encryption restrictions

Liberte, egalite, fraternite... cryptologie

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The French government looks set to dramatically open up its cryptography laws and allow Gallic computer users to work with encryption technology with whatever level of security they want. According to a report in the French online publication Liberation, French minister for the economy and finance, Domenica Strauss-Khan, has said she wishes to liberalise the country's restrictive laws on the use of powerful encryption software. France's crypto laws are currently very tough indeed. Until 1996 anyone wishing to encrypt any document had to first receive an official sanction or risk fines from F6000 to F500,000 ($1000 to $89,300) and a 2-6 month jail term. Right now, apart from a handful of exemptions, any unauthorised use of encryption software is illegal. Encryption software can be used by anyone, but only if it's very easy to break. Many French users and businesses have complained that this is not only an infringement of privacy but makes it impossible to provide e-commerce transactions that can be trusted to be safe and secure. This, they claim, has held the nation's businesses back from making the full use of the commercial opportunities the Internet provides. Strauss-Khan's solution is to liberalise the current restrictions and "make cryptography accessible to as many people as possible". Liberation reports that legislation to this effect may be announced in the next few days. ®

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