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Crypto class gets clearance

A professor who feared prosecution for teaching about encryption gets the government's version of a "get out of jail free" card.

A professor who feared prosecution for teaching about encryption got the government's version of a "get out of jail free" card today.

Professor Daniel Bernstein had won the right to teach his course last month when a federal judge ruled on December 16 that the government's encryption regulations violated free speech. But weeks later, the government released new rules, which put him back in jeopardy.

Today, Bernstein's lawyers won protection for him after wrangling with the Justice Department. He can now teach through spring 1997 without being prosecuted under the new rules. The course starts Monday at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"The government will not prosecute Professor Bernstein for giving cryptographic software and instructions on how to use it to his foreign students in the classroom," said his lawyer, Cindy Cohn.

The Justice Department also won't prosecute Bernstein for setting up a "controlled class site" on the Internet, which lets his students access cryptographic software and related materials. The "controlled class site" only allows machines on the University of Illinois network to access the cryptography, Cohn said.

Bernstein and his lawyers asked the government on December 31 to voluntarily delay enforcement of new restrictions until they could be reviewed by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel.

They threatened to file for a temporary restraining order against the new rules if the government did not agree to their conditions. But under today's agreement, Patel now has time to review the new rules, they said.

Another encryption case also unfolded in Washington today. The U.S. Court of Appeals heard another crypto law challenge in Karn vs. the U.S. Department of State, filed by cryptographer Philip Karn in September 1995.

Karn was denied permission to export a computer disk containing the source code in the book Applied Cryptography. Karn's request was denied despite the fact that the book itself may for now be freely exported. He is appealing a lower court's decision to dismiss the case.

This case raises the question of whether the government can make a distinction between information on paper and information in digital form, according to David Sobel, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"The new regulations, more clearly than the old regulations, prohibit the exportation of diskettes. Printed books or other printed material with encryption source code are not subject to the regulations. However, the fact that books can be scanned remains subject to the regulations."

Karn's supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union, EPIC, the Internet Society, and the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery.