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HP to Unveil Encryption Technology

Computers: Export of products containing stronger security codes may soon be possible.

November 16, 1996|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to unveil technology on Monday that could provide a breakthrough in the long-deadlocked debate over use of software encoding for secure data traffic.

Supported by Microsoft and Intel, the technology would make it possible to export products containing powerful encryption that cannot be exported under national security laws dating back to the Cold War, industry officials said.

Encryption programs 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 "software key" that can unlock the coded material.

A Hewlett-Packard spokesperson said the encryption scheme adheres to export controls because it incorporates an authentication scheme that would enable the government to maintain control over who receives and uses products containing stronger cryptography.

Under national security law, the U.S. government has allowed the export of software and computer products containing only weaker data encryption technologies.

For years the domestic computer industry has complained that such restrictions have hampered its competitiveness in world markets, and that its customers did not necessarily want the government to be able to decode internal data.

The HP announcement comes as President Clinton signed an executive order Friday liberalizing U.S. export policy to allow companies to sell more powerful encryption devices abroad.

But companies first would have to assure the U.S. government that law enforcers--acting on court orders--would be able to crack the code and intercept the communications.

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