In the trade security arena (export controls, economic sanctions, etc.), there is an international organization called the Wassenaar Arrangement that holds an annual meeting every December in Vienna, Austria. While U.S. government political appointees and bureaucrats take part, the meetings are held in secret with no input from the public.
Meeting since the mid-1990s, these folks decide by consensus, standards that each country should adopt with regards to dual-use items and technology as well as weapon systems. According to a statement issued earlier this month, it appears that the Internet and related technologies factored front and center in the discussions:
In 2013, new export controls were agreed in a number of areas including surveillance and law enforcement/intelligence gathering tools and Internet Protocol (IP) network surveillance systems or equipment, which, under certain conditions, may be detrimental to international and regional security and stability. Participating States also further clarified existing controls in respect of inertial measurement of equipment or system and relaxed some controls such as for instrumentation of tape recorders and digital computers.
Keeping the Internet a regulation free zone is becoming increasingly difficult. As governments scrape by for revenue, improve data security or strengthen national security, expect more of it. Some of it is needed, most of it, likely not. However, criminal acts involving data crimes by individuals such as Edward Snowden have added a sense of urgency to the regulatory process.
The Wassenaar process requires a healthy dose of skepticism, especially in the Internet arena. It has become a place where jealous nations try to destroy U.S. competitiveness and security by guiding the policy discussion to, at times, seemingly unreasonable places. If your in the encryption business, you know exactly what this means. It has been an ongoing battle for decades.
In and open and democratic society, these decisions should be made in public, with plenty of time for input by companies and people impacted by these proposed rules and regulations. Some of this work needs to be held in private; however, with little, if any, fulsome oversight by the U.S. Congress, comments by folks like you and me is just about nil. That is why we tell our clients, engage in the U.S. regulatory and policymaking process years before you need it because when you need to, it may be too late.
Next time your going to cheer for a lawbreakers such as Snowden, think again. His illegal acts have repercussions way beyond what you are reading in the headlines.
Click here to learn more about the new Wassenaar guidelines released earlier this month.