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Friday, 17 July 2015 06:27

Cryptology research potentially a criminal activity Featured

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Australia’s obsession with national security continues to have unintended consequences, with the academic exchange of information about cryptography now in danger.

Internet freedom group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has supported a call by the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) for amendments to Australia’s Defence Trade Controls Act to include exemptions for scientific research and for education.

The Act was recently updated and now prohibits the ‘intangible supply’ of encryption technologies, which EFA says subjects many ordinary teaching and research activities to unclear and potentially severe export controls.

EFA Chair David Cake said: "While it is obviously an important technology in the national security context, cryptography is also vital for the privacy and security of individuals, and is critical to commerce in the digital age. Not only is civilian cryptographic research a necessary component of a vibrant digital economy, it is also a vital tool for protection of our privacy against illegal and unethical surveillance and criminal attacks.

“EFA believes that the situation created by this legislation is absurd and needs to be rectified urgently. If not, Australia's capacity to deal with future cybersecurity challenges will be severely constrained and a whole category of highly-skilled digital economy jobs will simply not exist in this country.”

The IACR has circulated a petition calling for a change in the law, which is available at www.iacr.org/petitions/australia-dtca/. It reads:

We are deeply concerned about Australia's Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA). The act prohibits the intangible supply’ of encryption technologies, and hence subjects many ordinary teaching and research activities to unclear, potentially severe, export controls. As an international organisation of cryptographic researchers and educators, we are concerned that the DTCA criminalises the very essence of our association: to advance the theory and practice of cryptography in the service of public welfare.

We affirm that the public welfare of Australians — and society in general — is best served by open research and education in cryptography and cybersecurity. Open, international scientific collaboration is responsible for the encryption technologies that are now vital to individuals, businesses, and world governments alike. The current legislation cuts off Australia from the international cryptographic research community and jeopardises the supply of qualified workforce in Australia's growing cybersecurity sector.

We call on Australia to amend their export control laws to include clear exemptions for scientific research and for education.


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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