Export controls on surveillance and hacking tools?

The old Cold War export control alliance, now known as the Wassenaar Arrangement, hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of new controls since Russia joined the club.  But according to the Financial Times, the 41-nation group is preparing a broad new set of controls on complex surveillance and hacking software and cryptography.  I suspect that the move is a response to concerns about the use of  such tools — from deep packet inspection to zero-day attacks — by rogue states like Syria and Iran.

It’s an unusual step in several respects.  First, the European Union seems to be at least as enthusiastic as the United States about the controls. Usually, Europeans have let the US take the lead (and the economic hit) when it comes to controlling exports. Second, it is not clear that these controls will work.  Wassenaar doesn’t include China or Israel, both major producers of surveillance and hacking tools.  So the new control regime could turn out to be an exercise in moral preening, as Europe and the United States sacrifice technology sales to China and Israel for the sake of political correctness.

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