The Asian Wall Street Journal
January 26, 2000

Encryption for Everyone

Next Monday is the deadline for foreign companies in China that make use of foreign-designed encryption software to apply for permission from the Chinese government to continue doing so. Remember, encryption is available in such widely used software as Internet browsers, and is essential for protecting on-line financial transactions. According to "State Council Order Number 273," after applying for permission, companies must submit information on the software being used, including the name and phone number of every employee who might use the software.

This would allow Chinese authorities to keep tabs on companies and individuals who, for whatever reasons, wish to keep their on-line communications private. This could include anyone from pro-democracy activists to companies providing electronic commerce services.

Sometimes the best way to deal with such attempts to monitor the populace is to give the authorities what they ask for. In fact, just to be safe, anyone using any software that might conceivably qualify as "encryption" should get down to the relevant government offices by Monday and register.

Better yet, every foreign company operating in China could protect itself from prying eyes by heading over to the Pretty Good Privacy website (, downloading copies of PGP's high-powered encryption software for each of its employees, and giving everyone's phone numbers to the government.

By putting encryption technology in the hands of more people, firms will help to further the development of e-commerce in China. And by reporting all of their employees as potential users of encryption, they will make it more difficult for the government to single out users for surveillance. Anyone with a long-term interest in seeing e-commerce flourish in China should be eager to comply with the disclosure requirements in this way. Those who would like to see freedom of speech flourish alongside the cyber-revolution should be happy to cooperate as well.

Copyright Dow Jones & Co. 2000