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Government OKs Netscape encryption

Netscape gets government approval to distribute tougher encryption software.

Netscape Communications has received approval from the federal government to distribute a version of its Navigator browser with much tougher encryption software within the United States.

The company today will post a version of Navigator to its Web site that includes 128-bit key encryption software. Netscape will check the country of origin and Internet address of everyone requesting to download the software and will ask downloaders to sign an affidavit affirming their U.S. citizenship, according to The New York Times.

Even with these screening procedures, company officials warn that the software could still fall into the wrong hands. But Netscape sees the approval as a first step toward allowing the industry to export nearly hacker-proof security software outside of the country to allow companies to build global electronic commerce systems.

The State Department, fearing that terrorists or other criminals could use powerful encryption software to threaten national security, limits the export of encryption software to a much less secure 40-bit version, allowing the government to monitor it more easily. High-technology businesses counter that the limit threatens secure business communications.

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