Programming languages covered by First Amendment

News.com is reporting on an interesting court ruling in CA.

\"A federal appeals court today cleared the way for a law professor to post previously banned encryption software on the Internet, finding that computer code qualifies as speech protected by the First Amendment.

The decision hands the U.S. government yet another defeat in its efforts to keep intact federal rules limiting the export of encryption software. Academics and civil liberties groups have mounted several attacks on the regulations, winning a similar result before an appeals court in California, a decision currently under review.\"

\"This is a great day for programmers,\" said Raymond Vasvari, the American Civil Liberties Union legal director in Cleveland. \"Now professor Junger will be able to publish online the chapter of his book dealing with encryption.\"

Attorneys for the government could not immediately be reached for comment.


The government argues that restrictions on encryption export--which carry potential criminal penalties for violations--are necessary for national security.

In court papers, government attorneys had argued that computer programs are \"routinely written, distributed and used for the wholly non-expressive purpose of making a computer carry out a specific task\" and therefore should not be granted free speech protections.


Regulations surrounding encryption have eased considerably since Junger filed his lawsuit in 1996, but the issue has remained a rallying cry for civil liberties groups and U.S. software companies that have complained the regulations make it more difficult to compete overseas.

In addition, the ruling could hold deeper significance for other battles to keep computer code off of the Internet. According to some legal analysts, programmers accused of wrongdoing could find a powerful First Amendment defense if the decision holds.

For example, some theorized that today\'s decision could test the balance between free speech and copyright protections in litigation between the movie industry and Web operators accused of circulating a program that lets people crack the security on DVDs.

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