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BBC Online 18/3/99: "UK 'struggling with Internet en

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Date:          Thu, 18 Mar 1999 19:53:42 -0500
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From:          Robert Hettinga <>
Subject:       BBC Online 18/3/99: "UK 'struggling with Internet encryption'"

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Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 23:20:19 +0000
From: "Caspar Bowden" <> (by way of Fearghas McKay
Subject: BBC Online 18/3/99: "UK 'struggling with Internet
encryption'" Reply-To: "Usual People List" <> Sender:
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UK 'struggling with Internet encryption'
The vast majority of Internet traffic passes through the US

The UK Government's handling of Internet encryption will be criticised
by a House of Commons select committee when it reports after the
Easter holidays.

The BBC's Susan Watts reports on the doubled-edged sword which is
Internet encryption

BBC Two's Newsnight programme has learned that the government will be
accused of dithering over what system to use.

The Internet is booming, with about 10,000 people going online in the
UK every day.

But as the amount of e-mail and other Internet traffic grows there are
increasing worries about the dangers of criminals and others hacking
in and stealing vital information.

Tony Blair's government has been accused of dithering
It is a problem which affects everyone - from those making credit card
purchases over the Internet to huge companies anxious to protect
confidential information from competitors.

Powerful encryption software

The answer appeared to be encryption. American Phil Zimmermann
invented Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), an encryption code which allows
people to protect their cyber messages from unwanted attention.

John Carr, an Internet consultant with children's charities: "One is
bound to be worried about the danger of encryption." But the dangers
of strong encryption software alarms national governments and law
enforcement agencies who fear it could be used by paedophiles,
terrorists and drug dealers to communicate secretly around the globe.

A new system - key escrow - was invented in a bid to thwart such

This software encrypts e-mails and other sensitive material to prevent
it falling into the wrong hands.

E-mail messages can be encrypted

But the code is available to police forces and other agencies, so
anyone sending illegal information through the Net cannot be sure
their messages are not being read by the police.

Our correspondent, Susan Watts, says: "It is like giving your house
keys to the police."

Not popular with businesses

But the system has been criticised by business leaders, civil
liberties groups and medical associations who believe there is a
danger of confidentiality, security and civil liberties being abused.

Newsnight has learned that the trade and industry select committee has
criticised the government for dithering over key escrow.

It says the government wasted two years looking at the system and then
decided it would be too harmful to the UK's booming cyber-economy.

The government has now given the Internet industry until 1 April to
come up with an alternative to key escrow which will satisfy the
National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).

'Potentially devastating'

The director general of NCIS, John Abbott, says failure to replace key
escrow could be "devastating".

There is a danger of paedophiles encrypting obscene material
"Our capability to tackle serious and organised criminal operating at
the top level will be severely impaired.

"We are particularly concerned about the next five to ten years when
encryption will become embedded in systems almost automatically," says
Mr Abbott.

Mr Zimmermann says: "I worry about terrorists and criminals using PGP
but I can't see how to give cryptography to the masses without making
it available to terrorists and criminals." ---------------------------
Let us know what you think.

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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto:>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <> 44
Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA "... however it may deserve
respect for its usefulness and antiquity, [predicting the end of the
world] has not been found agreeable to experience." -- Edward Gibbon,
'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'