Human Rights Watch today welcomed the Canadian government's recent announcement affirming the freedom of Canadians to develop, import and use whatever cryptography products they choose.

Minister of Industry John Manley announced the policy last week as pressure t"This move recognizes Canadian citizens' fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression," said Jagdish Parikh, who follows Internet freedom issues for Human Rights Watch. "However, we are disappointed Canada failed to acknowledge the equal -- or perhaps greater -- need of dissidents and human rights organizations under repressive regimes to have access to the same products."

Canadian cryptography policy makes it clear that the Government will not implement mandatory key recovery requirements or licensing regimes for certification authorities or trusted third parties. By contrast the United States has adopted more restrictive encryption policies. In particular, Washington has outlawed the export of the most popular software among human rights activists, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). The 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, an international agreement signed by 30 countries to govern the proliferation of military technology, explicitly exempts crypto-software, such as PGP that is widely available in the public domain.

Increasingly, political and grassroots groups use encryption technologies to share information and organize resistance. In recent remarks at a forum for non-governmental organizations in Montreal, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy pointed out that "The Internet has the potential to shelter and nourish opposition groups who are seeking democratic change under repressive regimes."

Human Rights Watch urged the Canadian government to resist any international arrangements which limit global access and distribution of encryption technologies for legitimate uses. Parikh noted that the right to free expression is set forth in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which most members of Wassenaar Arrangement are party. "Business and intelligence considerations should not be allowed to trump global citizens' basic right to communicate freely," Parikh concluded.