Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

UK: "Decryption warrants"

UK: Electronic Communications Act Creates Legal Perils

Duncan Campbell 09.07.99

"Decryption warrants": the replacement for key escrow.

After three years of unsuccessful attempts to introduce key escrow, the British government has written an "Electronic Communications Act" to force users of electronic privacy to hand over their keys, passwords or plaintext on demand to the police. Part 3 of the proposed Act grants police powers to seek two year jail sentences for anyone unable to provide them on demand with keys to encrypted files and communications. Both encryption users and service providers will be covered. Another new offence is aimed mainly at service providers. Called the "tipping off" offence, this provision would impose jail sentences on anyone who revealed that they had been served with a decryption warrant. It could be used to prevent the recipient, or even the user of the privacy keys concerned, from telling anyone else that their messages were no longer private or secure.