Their eloquence escapes me…

Seeing Tim Holbrow’s blog about Export Control and the Symbian Platform reminds me just how insane the Export Control regulations really are.

The Government argument is that a) the platform contains “strong cryptography”, and therefore b) it would be a Bad Thing if Bad People got hold of it. We can’t be told who the Bad People are, or what Bad Things might happen (National Security), so the only solution is to insist that we log every delivery and try not to send it to countries which aren’t on the Nice list.

There’s only one word for this. Stupid.

Let’s make some guesses. The Bad People are terrorists, spies and criminals, all of whom would like to hide what they are doing from the police and the government. Those people do things which really are pretty bad by any standards, but the “strong cryptography” angle means that the authorities are primarily worried about one specific “Bad Thing”, i.e. they could store and transmit information which can’t be decoded by the authorities.

I guess none of us want to help terrorists blow up railway stations, but the government seem to have missed the point: strong cryptography is already out there, freely available. Furthermore, the Symbian Platform is open, which means that any Bad Person can pop along to an internet cafe, download OpenSSL, and compile their own applications to install on their own phones. The phones themselves can be purchased almost anywhere in the world, and even Bad People sometimes visit (or live in) Nice countries.

It makes about as much sense as requiring a modern London Taxi to carry a bale of hay for the non-existent horse. That law was repealed in 1976 after 145 years – let’s hope we don’t have to wait that long for sense to prevail on “Export Control”.


2 Responses to “Their eloquence escapes me…”

  1. Mark Wilcox Says:

    Well said. I couldn’t agree more. There may have been a good reason to try to restrict this technology when it only existed in research establishments but now…?!

    I remember geeks of from about 10-15 years ago putting an implementation of PGP into their (rather long) email signature and deliberately routing their mails through a server in the US – just to break the stupid law there on purpose.

    Unfortunately the law makers are far too slow to keep up with technology, so surely the best solution to this problem is not to wade through all the paperwork but simply get the parts of the platform that contain strong crypto into EPL as soon as possible (next week should be possible if there’s sufficient will to do so).


  2. James Nash Says:

    Totally agree.

    I find in general that laws which supposedly protect us from Bad People just end up inconveniencing the law-abiding Good People.

    By definition, a Bad Person doesn’t stick to the laws. If they want to get strong encryption software or whatever they’re not going to let some silly export law stop them. They’ll download source or obtain the binaries by some other means. Either way, they get what they want and in the meantime people like yourself are stuck with extra work.

    There was a similar situation when the PlayStation 2 first launched. It was classed as a super computer (due to some outdated definition of super computer) and therefore subject to similar export laws because they claimed some nasty person might use it to guide missiles!

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