Imagine Carl Djerassi, inventor of the birth-control pill, arrested at an endocrinology conference in Japan during the decades before 1999, when oral contraceptives were illegal there. Or an engineer for Smith&Wesson facing jail in Washington, D.C., where most traffic in handguns is outlawed. Absurd scenarios? Not to Russian cryptographer Dmitry Sklyarov, who spent three weeks this summer shuttling from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City to San Jose in federal custody after his arrest on charges of trafficking in "circumvention devices" inimical to the interests of U.S. copyright holders.
Sklyarov's crime? Writing a program that his employer, the Moscow software company ElcomSoft, briefly sold to American customers via two U.S. Internet companies. The software removes cryptographic protection from electronic books produced by Adobe Systems so that people who have purchased the eBooks can make backup copies of them, transfer their eBooks to another computer, or feed their content into text-to-speech software for the blind. Oh, and make illegal copies.
This article was originally published with the title Symmetry Breaking.