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US crypto law cover for industrial spookery

Europe says UK and US steal data to aid home-grown firms. Several Great Satans implicated

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A clandestine alliance of spooks in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand has been using moves to bring European encryption regulations into line with US crypto law to steal industrial secrets from companies based in the European Union. That's the shocking conclusion of a draft report from the European Parliament's Scientific and Technological Options Assessment committee, released last week. The report alleges Microsoft, Lotus and Netscape were persuaded by the US National Security Agency to modify their software to make versions shipped overseas better able to collect information of interest transmitted across the Internet. The report even claims at least two major French companies, Thompson and Airbus Industrie lost contracts because confidential information was cracked and leaked to rival bidders. The report, revealed on TechWeb, makes for disturbing reading yet manages to sound like something out of a James Bond movie at the same time. So, while the UK/US alliance used its Echelon global espionage network to scan all international communications lines using satellites and listening stations -- the partners also developed a special submarine to sail around earwigging on Internet traffic. The report also claims the UK maintains a database of three months' worth of complete Usenet messages, through which it sorts for useful data using intelligent agent software. US crypto policy has always centred on the use of key escrow to allow law enforcement agencies to bypass encryption algorithms in pursuit of information hidden by criminals. However, in attempting to persuade the EU to align its crypto reulations with the States' own laws, "the US government misled states in the EU and the OECD about the true intention of its policy", claims the report. That "true intention" was to allow spooks to access confidential commercial information for the economic advancement of domestic businesses. The proof, reckons the report, is the lack of police representation in crypto policy making between 1993 and 1997. All this will, of course, fuel a frenzy among conspiracy theorists, but no matter how much UK and US security agencies use the system for tracking genuine terrorist activity -- their justification for monitoring the Net -- bunging stuff toward UK and US companies bidding against European rivals is not on. That said, how many of these allegations stand up -- or are simply claims made by companies who would have lost contracts anyway; it's always easier to blame others than face your own failings -- remains to be seen. But it will be equally difficult to show how frequently confidential commercial data is abused this way. ® See also D Notice MI6 geezer-journalist gets nickers in a twyst Spy leaker accuses Government of hype Web site names UK spies

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