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Crypto class bans foreign students

A Cleveland law professor has filed a federal lawsuit challenging national security regulations that he says prevent him from teaching encryption technology to foreign students.

A Cleveland law professor has filed a federal lawsuit challenging national security regulations that he says prevent him from teaching encryption technology to foreign students.

Peter Junger, a 25-year veteran of Case Western Reserve School of Law, says the U.S. State Department and the National Security Agency limit his right to teach his computer law class on cryptography and post his course online. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks to prohibit the government from interfering with his or any other person's right to discuss or publish cryptographic information with persons of foreign origin.

The conflict, which pits national security issues squarely against the right to free speech, could be the first of many cases to pose the constitutional dilemma as encryption becomes increasingly sophisticated. Already, technology companies are at odds with the Clinton administration over export controls on encryption software, which the government contends is a potential threat to national security if it falls into the hands of terrorists.

Junger's lawyer maintains that the regulations are a clear violation of the First Amendment as enforced by the State Department in cooperation with the National Security Agency. "Nobody knows who ultimately makes the decision or how they decide, and that's a particularly frightening form of censorship," attorney Raymond Vasvari said.

Junger, for his part, just wants to teach. The professor believes that it is important to instruct law students in computer cryptography because the technology is expected to play an important role in the economic development of the Internet.

The class focuses on the legal aspects of computer use and software development. To teach the principles of the technology to his students, he prepared a cryptographic algorithm and included it in his course materials.

But Junger's algorithm is, by definition, cryptographic software and therefore cannot be made available to foreign students, Vasvari said. "He cannot, consistent with federal law, expose foreign students or foreign colleagues to the information contained even in this most basic algorithm without risking penalty," he said.

Last semester, on Vasvari's advice, Junger told the university's registrar that he wouldn't allow foreign students to register and turned away at least one Russian graduate student for fear of being penalized under the law, even though his algorithm is widely available.

"The professor's algorithm is so simple that it can be found in any library book, but we're not taking any chances," Vasvari said. Junger has also turned down course material requests from professors from China and Oxford University in England.

Under International Traffic in Arms Regulations, cryptographic computer software is prohibited and considered a "munition." If Junger publishes his course material or accepts foreign students, he could face up to ten years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

"The ITAR defines export as revealing the information to any foreign person in the United States, so that means that if you were to walk up to a Canadian on the street and show them a copy of an encryption algorythm you could be guilty of a federal crime," Vasvari said.

Junger's class begins later this month but his case is expected to last for about one year. Members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation plan to contribute to the case, which is being technically advised by John Gilmore, former employee of Sun Microsystems.