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Germany seeks end to encryption ban

Gunter Rexrodt, the German Economics Minister, yesterday called for the removal of restrictions on encryption technology when he opened a two-day Global Information Networks conference on Internet commerce attended by 40 government ministers from the European Union, the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada.

The issue is expected to be one of the most hotly debated at the conference as industry leaders from the United States, western and eastern Europe, Asia and developing countries, as well as the ministers, discuss global issues on doing business on the Internet.

In contrast to the United States, which failed to relax rules on technology that allows Internet users to code messages and business transactions, Germany has been leaning towards keeping such coding and decoding software unregulated. Objection to allowing free trade in encryption technology has come mainly from security and law enforcement officials in both the United States and Europe. They fear that the technology will be used by organised crime to hide their activities from the law.

The European hosts of Global Information Networks saw some of their thunder stolen by President Bill Clinton last week when he issued a call to create an Internet "free trade zone" within a year. Washington wants to carve out such a zone within the context of the World Trade Organisation, with a group of core countries ready and able to carry it out.

The proposal has met only a lukewarm response from EU states and some developing countries which fear that any deal would disproportionately benefit US industry. The Bonn Declaration, to be made at the end of the event, will be based on a theme paper that can already be read on the Internet ( bonn/conference.htm). It is expected to contain statements underscoring the goal of keeping regulation to a minimum, protecting the integrity of regional and national cultural identity, and not erecting barriers to network-based commerce.


Grey set for comeback with Geofox

George Grey, the founder and former managing director of Cambridge-based Tadpole Technology Inc, is having another stab at setting up a computer business. Grey has created Geofox with the help of his two partners, Noel Poore, a former Tadpole employee, and Andy Davis, one of the founders of Spider Systems Ltd.

Geofox already has a prototype of its handheld computer that Grey believes will go down a storm with individuals and corporate businesses. Weighing less than a pound, the machine will be targeted at people who need word processing, spreadsheet, e-mail and Web browsing access on a mobile basis but are fed up with lugging about heavier and bulkier notebook machines. The computer can be connected to a keyboard and will be sold direct and via the Internet.

The Geofox computer is to use the Advanced RISC Machines Ltd ARM processor and run a "major" operating system, according to Grey, who isn't giving too much away because he is in discussion with third-party companies. Grey is not worried about competition from the likes of Toshiba Inc and Psion plc, and says the product is quite different from their machines.