Google slams proposed US export controls on security tools

A U.S. agency has proposed that companies exporting hacking tools from the U.S. get licenses

A proposed set of software export controls, including controls on selling hacking software outside the U.S., are "dangerously broad and vague," Google said Monday.

Google, commenting on rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), said the proposed export controls would hurt the security research community.

A DOC Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) proposal, published in May would require companies planning to export intrusion software, Internet surveillance systems and related technologies to obtain a license before doing so. Exports to Canada would be exempt from the licensing requirement.

The proposed rules "would also hamper our ability to defend ourselves, our users, and make the web safer," Google's Neil Martin, an export compliance lawyer, and Tim Willis with the Chrome Security Team, wrote in a blog post. "It would be a disastrous outcome if an export regulation intended to make people more secure resulted in billions[b] of users across the globe becoming persistently less secure."

The DOC proposed the export controls as part of the U.S. government's membership in the so-called Wassenaar Arrangement, a multi-national export control association. A DOC spokesman didn't respond to a request for a comment on the Google blog post.

The proposed rules would "require Google to request thousands -- maybe even tens of thousands -- of export licenses," Martin and Willis wrote in their blog post. Comments about the DOC proposal were due Monday.

The export controls could cover Google's communications about software vulnerabilities, including emails, bug tracking systems and instant messages, the two Google employees wrote.

"You should never need a license when you report a bug to get it fixed," they added. "There should be standing license exceptions for everyone when controlled information is reported back to manufacturers for the purposes of fixing a vulnerability. This would provide protection for security researchers that report vulnerabilities, exploits, or other controlled information to any manufacturer or their agent."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also opposed the proposed rules, saying it appears that they would cover any software that is used to help develop zero-day exploits.

"This is tremendously worrisome because security researchers use the very same tools to develop academic proofs of concept, demonstrating that the vulnerabilities they have found are valid," the EFF said in a blog post.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags GoogleregulationsecurityU.S. Department of CommercegovernmentTim WillisNeil MartinElectronic Frontier Foundationtrade

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Grant Gross

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