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[FYI] "Whitehall's control freaks are on a roll"


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19 January 1999. Thanks to IB and Anon. 


The Times [London], 19 January 1999  
[opinion pages]

Sue Cameron 

  'The Government is running scared over electronic 
   trade - it is using the war on crime as an excuse 
   to snoop on us all through our computers'

Whitehall's control freaks are on a roll. Not only have they managed
to consign the long-promised Freedom of Information Bill to the bottom
of the pending tray, they are now poised to give themselves powers to
go snooping through your computer. 

Included in the Electronic Commerce Bill, due to be introduced this
spring, are powers ostensibly designed to help the authorities to
combat crime. But the Bill will also give the Government powers to
eavesdrop on anyone's confidential computer messages, raising
important questions about civil liberty, law enforcement and the power
of the State. 

The issue, with its uncomfortable echoes of the erosion of individual
freedoms so vividly depicted in the film Enemy of the State, will be
raised when the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee meets

The logic of the Bill seems obvious - a quarter of all business deals
are expected soon to be done through what is known as e-commerce and
the Government wants to create a legal framework in which such trade
can flourish. 

Specifically, the Bill is meant to boost public confidence in the
security of e-commerce. People need to be sure that the information
they send over the networks is confidential. This is ensured through
encryption, and the Government is planning to offer licences to
encryption services - bodies known as Trusted Third Parties, or TTPs.
Any organisation wanting a licence will have to satisfy Oftel that it
can meet minimum standards of reliability and technical competence. 

It is with the TTPs that the concerns begin. They will keep copies of
everyone's encryption keys - the devices that enable messages to be
decoded - and the Bill will give law enforcement agencies the right to
demand access to these keys. 


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