Group Releases International Survey of Encryption Policies

(June 10, 1999) The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington DC based interest group which focuses on civil liberties and privacy rights in electronic media, released its second annual survey and report on encryption policies around the world. The June 9 report concludes that most nations have no encryption controls, and that the trend is towards relaxation of regulations.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) supports legislation which relaxes encryption controls. Several bills are currently being considered in the House and Senate. On Wednesday, June 9, the House Select Intelligence Committee held a hearing on the HR 850, the SAFE Act. On Thursday, June 10, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on S 798, the PROTECT Act.

The survey and report is titled Cryptography & Liberty 1999: An International Survey of Encryption Policy. It is available in print, and online in the EPIC web site.

The Report begins, "Most countries in the world have no controls on the use of cryptography. In the vast majority of countries, cryptography may be freely used, manufactured, and sold without restriction."

The report places nations into five categories. The top category (least amount of government restriction) includes many small nation states, such as Liechtenstein, Tonga, Barbuda, Aruba, and the Falkland Islands, as well as larger states.

Most of the large industrial nations are spread across the top three categories. Germany, Canada, and Ireland are all in the top category (fewest restraints on encryption). France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Finland are in the second category. The United States and the United Kingdom fall in the third category.

The report also found that "There are a small number of countries where strong domestic controls on the use of cryptography exist. These are mostly countries where human rights command little respect." Among the countries given the lowest rating are Russia, China, and Viet Nam.

The report also found that the worldwide trend is towards relaxation of encryption restraints. "Many countries have recently adopted policies expressly rejecting requirements for key escrow systems and a few countries, most notably France, have dropped their escrow systems."

The survey listed several other countries which have moved towards less restrictive policies. These included Canada, Ireland, Austria, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States.

However, the report also listed countries that have moved towards a more restrictive policy. These included the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Slovakia.

EPIC opposes encryption restraints for human rights and privacy reasons. "Cryptography can also be used to allow for the anonymous dissemination of information, such as reports on human rights abuses, and to ensure that documents of human rights groups are not tampered with or altered after release."

The EPIC report also states that "Governmental regulation of cryptographic security techniques endangers personal privacy. Encryption ensures the confidentiality of personal records, such as medical information, personal financial data, and electronic mail. In a networked environment, such information is increasingly at risk of being stolen or misused."