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Money, credit card information, and
even littte packets of 'electronic
money', can now be sent over the
Internet without the risk of a third
party intercepting and using it. The
prospects of a digital economy, in
which people 'pay per view' for
access to individual pages on the
World Wide Web, are quite real. The
US government has permitted the
computer firm Hewlett-Packard, and
the software company RSA, to export
software offering'strong encryption'
of computer data.
Although European companies
already have similar systems of
encryption, the US had banned companies from exporting such software.
It has stifled international digital
commerce, because users of the
Internet could not entirely be sure
that their information was not being
Encryption programmes use
mathematical formulas to scramble
information, such as electronic mail
messages or credit card numbers, to
render them unreadable to computer
users without a password, or a 'software key', that can unlock the coded
material. Keys that are less than 56
binary digits long can be cracked
with comparative ease. 'Strong'
encryption consists of keys that are
128 or more bits long, which could
take years to crack using conventional computers.
Under existing US laws, programmes using 'strong encryption'
have been classed with munitions -
and banned from export. US software companies have protested that
the ban prevents the selling of programmes to countries which would
Me to use them. The US government
had earlier contended that it could
not allow the export of these pro-
grammes because it needed to be able
to intercept terrorists' messages.
The need to have the same
encryption staftdard available inside
and outside the US is important to
facilitate commerce on the Internet.