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Digital spy tech could face same regulation as weapons in international treaty

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security code graphic
security code graphic

A consortium of international governments are working on an update to a nearly 18-year-old agreement in order to limit the export of various electronics security technologies. Citing sources familiar with the talks, The Financial Times says the UK government in particular wants to limit the movement of "complex surveillance and hacking software and cryptography," as part of the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement. That agreement was established in mid-1996 to control arms exports between its 41 participating countries (including the US), and could now be expanded to further limit security technologies, just like guns.

Enemies with easy access could use that technology

One such concern are programs designed to scan for hidden or otherwise obfuscated computer code in data that's crossing a network. Enemies with easy access could use that technology to more easily pick up on rival intelligence and espionage efforts, creating a veritable arms race between nations.

The move could affect companies that sell cyberspying software internationally. That list includes Milan-based tech security consultancy Hacking Team, which sells commercial hacking software to law enforcement agencies, as well as government intelligence agencies worldwide. Such companies have attracted attention for enabling spying on private citizens, though have seemingly operated within the confines of the law.

The Wassenaar Agreement, for its part, was last updated in December 2012, with changes to export rules for arms and other technologies, as well as the addition of Mexico as a participating state.