Professor Daniel J. Bernstein today renews his court battle against U.S. government obstructions to Internet security research.
Bernstein's court complaint, to be filed today by Rich Winter and Sarah Pace of the Chicago-based firm McBride Baker & Coles, challenges the constitutionality of the government's regulations on cryptography. Internet software uses cryptography to keep passwords and credit-card numbers safe from attackers.
"I'm trying to help protect computer systems against terrorists and other criminals," said Bernstein, who first filed legal action against the regulations as a Berkeley graduate student in 1995. "It's inexcusable that the government is continuing to interfere with my research in cryptography and computer security."
The U.S. government has imposed unilateral "national security" controls on encryption research and software for decades. Although strong cryptographic software has been available in Europe for many years, the U.S. government changed its cryptography regulations only two years ago in response to increased frustration by U.S. businesses and Professor Bernstein's successful legal case. However, current U.S. cryptography regulations are more complicated and obscure, restricting the flow of scientific information.
"The regulations require, for example, that whenever scientists disclose something new to a foreign colleague they simultaneously send it to the government," Winter said. "This makes in-person collaboration practically impossible."
Attorney Cindy Cohn of McGlashan and Sarrail led the case through a series of victories. In 1999, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that earlier regulations violated the First Amendment. After the government changed the regulations in response, the appellate court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court. Cohn subsequently joined EFF as Legal Director and transferred the lead position on the case to McBride, Baker & Coles. The case will continue to challenge these regulations until they offer full protection for academic freedom and the Constitutional rights of researchers and programmers.