Controversial French encryption legislation should be seen as a model for other EU member states, a senior IT security adviser to the French government told a hearing of cryptography experts in Copenhagen yesterday.
French law demands encryption keys be stored with a trusted third party (TTP) licensed by the state. This key can be recovered by law enforcement agencies to decode encrypted information without the knowledge or participation of the user.
Defending French laws on the use and export of strong cryptography, Stanislas d'Arbonneau said the French policy was a balance between the requirements of law enforcement agencies and consumers desire to protect themselves.
"We think this is a realistic and practical compromise. It gives private protection for users, but also allows the police to continue their fight against crime," he said.
D'Arbonneau said the French measure was a liberalising measure, and an improvement on the previous restrictive legislation. France decided to address the situation in 1996, because it did not want to wait for EU action, which could have taken "months or even years".
"Sometimes the French approach is seen as something that is going on in isolation, but this is happening in other member states as well. At the December meeting of EU telecomms ministers, many of the same concerns we have were expressed by the other ministers," he said.
Spelling out the requirements of the French regulatory regime, d'Arbonneau said that the use of encryption up to 128-bit strength is completely open, subject only to declaration with a TTP. The export of strong encryption is also subject to application.
"There are no technical limits or requirements, only functional ones. You will get a response from your application within a month. Strong encryption can be used in France," he said.
"We have tried to make our government regulation more flexible in this field, and we would invite our EU partners not to rule out this approach out of hand. We think it should be given a fair trial," he continued.
A French legal expert, however, said that there were serious doubts in France about the practical feasibility of the key recovery policy.
"D'Arbonneau did not tell the whole story. In practice there are a number of problems. The main one is that there is still a great deal of iuncertainty about who will actually be a TTP, and how they will be set up. There is still much to be sorted out," she argued.
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