[Clips] Can writing software be a crime?

Steve Furlong demonfighter at gmail.com
Wed Oct 5 15:16:44 EDT 2005

On 10/5/05, R.A. Hettinga <rah at shipwright.com> wrote:

>  Can writing software be a crime?
>  The Perez-Melara case, in comparison, represents the first time the
>  government has attempted to prosecute the developer of a software that can
>  be used for both lawful purposes (surreptitiously monitoring conversations
>  with the consent of one party, or with the "implied" consent of an employee
>  or a minor) or for unlawful purposes (eavesdropping without the consent of
>  either party).
>  What exactly did Perez-Melara do that was illegal? Was it writing the
>  software? Selling it? Advertising it?

Some years ago, when Clinton was still Prez, I skirted the US's crypto
("munitions") export rules by writing crypto code as a literate
program (http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/lp.html). Because
the digital file was a "document" rather than "source code", it
skirted the then laws concerning export.

That's wouldn't help here. Nowadays any source code I write which
might meet with official disapproval resides encrypted on my hard
drive. I distribute it pseudonymously. (crypto sign the tgz and the
email cover letter, then email it through an anonymizer.) It won't do
me much good for job hunting or other reputation-based benefits, but
it should keep me out of legal trouble.

For now. But, as has been asked before by people I used to consider
paranoid, how long before the US government considers a PGP keyring or
an encrypted partition to be prima facie evidence of criminalty?

(YMMV for non-US residents.)

There are no bad teachers, only defective children.

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