Cryptography Export Restrictions

Cryptography Export Laws


Many nations restrict the export of cryptography and some restrict its use by their citizens or others within their borders.

US Law

US laws, as currently interpreted by the US government, forbid export of most cryptographic software from the US in machine-readable form without government permission. In general, the restrictions apply even if the software is widely-disseminated or public-domain and even if it came from outside the US originally. Cryptography is legally a munition and export is tightly controlled under the
EAR Export Administration Regulations.

If you are a US citizen, your brain is considered US territory no matter where it is physically located at the moment. The US believes that its laws apply to its citizens everywhere, not just within the US. Providing technical assistance or advice to foreign "munitions" projects is illegal. The US government has very little sense of humor about this issue and does not consider good intentions to be sufficient excuse. Beware.

The official website for these regulations is run by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration (BXA).

Information on various challenges to these laws is indexed in the Cryptography Export Control Archives. The Berstein case challenging the constutionality of the export laws has succeeded in two levels of court so far. It is quite likely to go on to the Supreme Court.

These regulations were changed substantially in January 2000, apparently as a government attempt to get off the hook in the Bernstein case. It is now legal to export public domain source code for encryption, provided you notify the BXA. Various points, however, are not yet clear. Until these are clarified, our project policy on US contributions will remain as stated in the next paragraph.

US contributions to FreeS/WAN

The FreeS/WAN project cannot accept software contributions, not even small bug fixes, from US citizens or residents. We want it to be absolutely clear that our distribution is not subject to US export law. Any contribution from an American might open that question to a debate we'd prefer to avoid. It might also put the contributor at serious legal risk.

Of course Americans can still make valuable contributions (many already have) by reporting bugs, or otherwise contributing to discussions, on the project mailing list. Since the list is public, this is clearly constitutionally protected free speech.

Note, however, that the government might claim that export restrictions on technical assistance to foreign projects cover private discussions or correspondence with FreeS/WAN developers. It is not clear what the courts would do with such a claim, so we strongly encourage Americans to use the list rather than risk the complications.

What's wrong with restrictions on cryptography

Some quotes from prominent cryptography experts:
The real aim of current policy is to ensure the continued effectiveness of US information warfare assets against individuals, businesses and governments in Europe and elsewhere.
Ross Anderson, Cambridge University
If the government were honest about its motives, then the debate about crypto export policy would have ended years ago.
Bruce Schneier, Counterpane Systems
We should not be building surveillance technology into standards. Law enforcement was not supposed to be easy. Where it is easy, it's called a police state.
Jeff Schiller of MIT, in a discussion of FBI demands for wiretap capability on the net, as quoted by Wired.
We are literally in a race between our ability to build and deploy technology, and their ability to build and deploy laws and treaties. Neither side is likely to back down or wise up until it has definitively lost the race.
John Gilmore, FreeS/WAN project founder
The Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Engineering Steering Group made a strong statement in favour of worldwide access to strong cryptography. Essentially the same statement is in the appropriately numbered RFC 1984. Two critical paragraphs are:
We believe that such policies are against the interests of consumers and the business community, are largely irrelevant to issues of military security, and provide only a marginal or illusory benefit to law enforcement agencies, as discussed below.

The IAB and IESG would like to encourage policies that allow ready access to uniform strong cryptographic technology for all Internet users in all countries.

Our goal in the FreeS/WAN project is to build just such "strong cryptographic technology" and to distribute it "for all Internet users in all countries".

The Wassenaar Arrangement

Restrictions on the export of cryptography are not just US policy, though some consider the US at least partly to blame for the policies of other nations in this area.

A number of countries:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States

have signed the Wassenaar Arrangement which restricts export of munitions and other tools of war. Cryptographic sofware is covered there.

Wassenaar details are available from the Wassenaar Secretariat, and elsewhere in a more readable HTML version.

For a critique see the GILC site:

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC) has begun a campaign calling for the removal of cryptography controls from the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The aim of the Wassenaar Arrangement is to prevent the build up of military capabilities that threaten regional and international security and stability . . .

There is no sound basis within the Wassenaar Arrangement for the continuation of any export controls on cryptographic products.

We agree entirely.

Export status of Linux FreeS/WAN

We believe our software is entirely exempt from these controls since the Wassenaar
General Software Note says:
The Lists do not control "software" which is either:
  1. Generally available to the public by . . . retail . . . or
  2. "In the public domain".
There is a note restricting some of this, but it is a sub-heading under point 1, so it appears not to apply to public domain software.

Their glossary defines "In the public domain" as:

. . . "technology" or "software" which has been made available without restrictions upon its further dissemination.

N.B. Copyright restrictions do not remove "technology" or "software" from being "in the public domain".

We therefore believe that software freely distributed under the GNU Public License, such as Linux FreeS/WAN, is exempt from Wassenaar restrictions.

Most of the development work is being done in Canada. Our understanding is that the Canadian government accepts this interpretation.

Recent copies of the freely modifiable and distributable source code exist in many countries. Citizens all over the world participate in its use and evolution, and guard its ongoing distribution. Even if Canadian policy were to change, the software would continue to evolve in countries which do not restrict exports, and would continue to be imported from there into unfree countries. "The Net culture treats censorship as damage, and routes around it."

Help spread IPSEC around

You can help. If you don't know of a Linux FreeS/WAN archive in your own country, please download it now to your personal machine, and consider making it publicly accessible if that doesn't violate your own laws. We have a list of mirror sites; please send mail to our mailing list to get your mirror added.

If you make Linux CD-ROMs, please consider including this code, in a way that violates no laws (in a free country, or in a domestic-only CD product).

Please send a note about any new archive mirror sites or CD distributions to so we can update the documentation.

Web References

Our list of web references on cryptography law and policy is here.

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