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Feds relax export curbs on open-source crypto

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Reducing security risks from open source software

Federal restrictions will be relaxed on the export of open-source software that incorporates strong encryption, the US government announced on Friday in a lengthy disclosure.

The effect of the changes announced in the US Federal Register is that cryptography software now may be exported to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan as long as the source code from which it was derived is already “publicly available”. To qualify for the exemption, exporters must first notify the federal government exactly where the code is located.

“It's a lot of words, but it actually has a very modest impact,” Roszel Thomsen, an attorney who represents software companies, told The Register. “That removes restrictions on exports to embargoed countries which frankly weren't big markets for US exporters anyway.”

The tweak comes as industry and public interest groups have chafed for years at a battery of rules spelled out under the EAR, or Export Administration Regulations. It requires companies and individuals in the US to follow a series of steps before making cryptographic software available abroad.

Chief among critics' complaints: The EAR applies to virtually all cryptographic software unless expressly exempted. They argue the regimen should be turned around so that the software is exempted unless specifically subject to export control.

“It's like Gulliver being tied down by a thousand strings, each one of which could be individually snapped, but collectively severely handicap the range of motion of companies and individuals in this space,” Thomsen, a partner with Thomsen and Burke, said. ®

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