Researchers who fear that their work in encryption and computer security could run afoul of the law will be getting support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation under an initiative called the Coders’ Rights Project.
The foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes civil liberties in cyberspace, announced today that the project will offer researchers assistance on legal issues related to computer-security vulnerabilities, intellectual property and free speech, and reverse engineering, which involves taking apart a technology to see how it works.
Computer scientists’ work is often stymied by bogus legal threats, said Jennifer Granick, the foundation’s civil liberties director, in a prepared statement.
Added Edward W. Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist: “The Coders’ Rights Project will give critical legal help to programmers and developers who do the hard work in keeping technology robust and users safe.”
The group provided legal representation to Mr. Felten when he challenged the constitutionality of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 2001. He argued that the act’s anti-circumvention provision stifles computer scientists from pursuing encryption research. The provision makes it a crime for someone to distribute decryption technology that can circumvent access controls on copyrighted works. A federal judge dismissed the case.
In a related, more recent, case a Dutch-based semiconductor company sued Radboud University Nijmegen, also in the Netherlands, in an effort to stop researchers from publishing a paper exposing security flaws in the company’s transit smart-cards. A Dutch court ruled last month that the researchers could publish their findings.—Andrea L. Foster