'Save the teachers!' 184 cryptologists send Oz Govt cleartext petition

'Clear exemptions' sought for researchers caught in crypto export net

One hundred and eighty-four angry cryptologists have signed a letter appealing for Australia's Department of Defence to grant researchers and teachers specific exemption to the country's amended laws that crack-down on crypto and exploit trading.

The International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) letter is in response the Defence Trade Controls Act which came into effect April requiring those dealing in so-called dual-use information security technologies across international boundaries to seek approval before doing so.

Failure to gain approval could lead to 10 years in prison for the most serious breaches of the law.

Those affected by the laws have a 12 month non-enforcement period to April next year to comply.

Australia's Department of Defence is consulting with industry to discuss the finer points of how the Act may affect the industry and how it may apply to various edge-case scenarios. Delegates to those meetings have said the agency does not intend to be punitive against organisations and individuals dealing in cryptography.

Defence documents state that Australian teachers educating overseas students on cryptography will not be subject to the Act because the material is "in the public domain", nor will those who publish crypto software, with the exception of when the technology applies to "weapons of mass destruction".

However the non-profit IACR, which aims to "further research in cryptology and related fields", has requested Defence make a clear exemption for researchers stating that the Act hinders the nation's infosec community.

"We are deeply concerned about Australia's Defence Trade Controls Act … The current legislation cuts off Australia from the international cryptographic research community and jeopardises the supply of qualified workforce in Australia's growing cybersecurity sector, " the letter says.

"The act prohibits the 'intangible supply' of encryption technologies, and hence subjects many ordinary teaching and research activities to unclear, potentially severe, export controls.

"As an international organization of cryptographic researchers and educators, we are concerned that the DTCA criminalises the very essence of our association: to advance the theory and practice of cryptography in the service of public welfare."

Defence has been contacted for comment.

The group says unhindered research and education into cryptography serves the Australian public producing encryption technologies vital to "individuals, businesses, and world governments alike".

"We call on Australia to amend their export control laws to include clear exemptions for scientific research and for education."

The amended Act has caused ripples through the security industry as crypto pundits and exploit developers fret over how it may affect them.

More tepid opinion suggests the laws will make life hard only for those slinging surveillance platforms and technology designed for conventional weaponry. ®

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