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Crypto regs still tricky

Stealth export rules keep lawyers busy

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Over a year after the US government first announced the liberalization of encryption export rules, a tangle of vestigial regulations might still trip up unwary developers, experts say.

"Never work under the belief that encryption is not controlled," said Susan Kotila, project manager with Apple's export license department. "I've run into a lot of developers where I've had to tell them, I've got the name of a good lawyer, but you're in violation right now."

The last eighteen months of the Clinton administration heralded a series of significant reforms in the export restrictions that had kept strong security and privacy technology out of commercial products for years. But some regulation remains, and developers who include unbreakable encryption in a product that's sold overseas or online still need to jump through bureaucratic hoops to avoid running afoul of the law, said Kotila.

"Developers, be aware that you do need to go through one-time government review on your crypto before you export it," said Kotila, who delivered an impromptu lecture on the topic Tuesday at the 2001 Mac Crypto Conference held at Apple's Cupertino, California campus.

Apple's John Hurley blamed the regulations for keeping support for plug-in Cryptographic Service Providers (CSPs) out of Mac OSX, a feature that would have permitted independent developers to create their own replacements for the operating system's built-in encryption. "We do want people to be able to write CSPs," said Hurley. "But we're stuck by export laws."

Strong crypto is generally exportable, but in many cases companies are still required to submit a copy of new software to the US government for a thirty day review. Open source code has fewer restrictions, except when part of a commercial product.

Cindy Cohn, legal direct of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), agrees that reports of the death of crypto regulations are greatly exaggerated.

"The government came out and said they were giving up, but when you read the fine print, they didn't give up entirely," says Cohn, who represented mathematician Daniel Bernstein in his successful First Amendment challenge to the old crypto regulations. "They took something complex and made it even more complex. They've got caveats for every little thing."

Details on the rules and various exemptions may be found on the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration Web site.

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