The United States is one of only a handful of countries that have restricted or want to restrict the use of encrypted software and communications within its borders, according to a survey released today.
The survey was conducted by online rights advocate the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on behalf of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, a group opposed to what it sees as a spread of digital surveillance techniques and efforts by various governments.
The group challenges the Clinton administration's claim that many of the world's industrialized countries are willing to fall into line with the United States' plan to create a worldwide encryption system. Such a system, dubbed a "global key management infrastructure," would require users of encryption to store their "keys"--secret mathematical codes--with government-approved storehouses.
Law officials then would be able to access the codes to crack open the encrypted messages of suspected criminals. But such a system would invite abuse of power and allow governments to spy on the activities of legitimate organizations such as human rights watchdogs and political opposition, critics charge.
Officials at the Commerce Department, which administers the federal encryption export laws, were not immediately available for comment.
However, Commerce Undersecretary William Reinsch told the New York Times that the study does not contradict the administration's claims.
"All the administration has ever said is that there are more countries that go farther than we do," Reinsch said. "The study confirms that. And what I've gone on to say is that in talks with other countries, they are moving in our direction. I don't think the study itself does anything to contradict that."
The survey cited Belarus, China, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and Singapore as countries where domestic use of encryption is controlled. Countries now considering such controls include the United States, India, and South Korea, the report said.
In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stepped up its efforts to have Congress enact a bill that gives the bureau and other law enforcement agencies the right to decode and read U.S. citizens' encrypted messages as they are transmitted.
EPIC contacted 230 countries and territories about their cryptographic policies. For the countries that didn't respond, the survey's authors used previous studies conducted by U.S. government agencies.
The following are examples of other results from various industrialized countries: