Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

UK-NCIS: "crypto criminals"

28 January 1999. Thanks to Anonymous (2).


National Criminal Intelligence Service

Press Release

Embargoed until 16:30 Tuesday 26th January 1999

02/99 26 January 1999

NCIS calls upon Government to ensure law enforcement powers do not fall behind technology in fight against "crypto criminals"

The Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) today called upon the Government to ensure that it made it as difficult as possible for criminals to exploit the use of encryption for their own purposes.

Speaking at the NCIS HQ in London, John Abbott said:

"We fully support the lawful use of encryption, its use for confidentiality will prevent various forms of crime: fraud, theft of intellectual property and hacking.

"Cryptography also clearly provides benefits to commerce, industry and individuals. But it also provides new opportunities for criminals. Criminals have always been quick to take advantage of any new technologies and the have already started to exploit encryption in an effort to defeat the work of law enforcement agencies.

"A number of recent investigations into a variety of serious criminal offences in the UK have been hampered by the discovery that material which might otherwise assist the investigation, or be used in evidence, has been encrypted. The problem is increasing.

"We are therefore asking the Government to safeguard our existing powers by allowing us to apply for access to the decryption keys where we already have lawful access to material belonging to people strongly suspected of serious crime. We are not asking for copies of everybody's keys; nor are we asking for any new powers -- we are merely asking that a copy of the key is kept with a trusted third party so that if we need it, we can go to them with a warrant to obtain it."



Case Studies

1. Early in 1998 police enquiries into an attempted murder and sexual assault were impeded by the discovery of encrypted material on a suspect's computer. The investigator was able to proceed only after the material encryption key was discovered by the police amongst other material seized from the suspect.

2. There are numerous examples of paedophiles using encryption to conceal illegal activity from the attentions of law enforcement. In 1995, for example, two suspected paedophiles were arrested in the UK on suspicion of distributing child pornography on the Internet. Their computer systems were found to contain pornographic images of children and, in the case of the leading suspect, a large amount of encrypted material. The indications were that the suspects had used encrypted communications to distribute child pornography to contacts round the world via email. Although both paedophiles were subsequently convicted of distributing child pornography, the police investigation into the leading suspect was severely hampered by the fact that he had used encryption.

3. There are already examples of terrorists in the UK using encryption as a means of concealing their activities. In late 1996, a police operation culminated in the arrests of several leading members of a terrorist group and the seizure of computer equipment containing encrypted files. The files held information on potential terrorist targets such as police officers and politicians. The data was eventually retrieved, but only after considerable effort.

Interception of Communications Act of 1985 (IOCA)

The Interception of Communications Act of 1985 (IOCA) allows the Secretary of State to issue a warrant authorising the interception of communications on a public telecommunication system where this is judged necessary in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime, or for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of teh United Kingdom. The Secretary of State authorises interception only when he is satisfied that it is necessary in order to acquire information which could be reasonably obtained by any other method. The Act contains a number of safeguards, including the provision of a Commissioner (currently Lord Nolan) and Tribunal who have wide powers to oversee the operation of the Act and investigate complaints. NCIS is solely responsible for providing interception facilities for the police forces of England and Wales.

Search Warrants

Under a variety of legislation, including the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), the police may apply to the Courts for a search warrant under which material, including stored data, can be seized if it is covered by the warrant or where there are reasonable grounds for believing it is evidence of an offence or has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence. PACE also contains powers for the Courts to order the production of such material.

PACE also contains provisions to assist the police in seizure of computerised information. Section 20 of PACE states that powers of seizure conferred on a constable who has entered premises under statutory authority shall be construed as a power to require any information contained in a computer and accessible from the premises to be produced in a form in which it can be taken away and which it is visible and legible.


In April last year, Barbara Roche MP, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, announced the Government's intention to allow the voluntary licensing of those bodies providing, or facilitating, the provision of cryptography services and to enable law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant for lawful access to information necessary to decrypt the content of communications or stored data (in effect, the encryption key).

These powers will apply to those holding such information (whether licensed or not) and to users of encryption products. They will be exercisable only when appropriate authority has been obtained (for example, a warrant issued by a Secretary of State in the case of an interception of communications or a judicial warrant for the purpose of a criminal investigation).

Media Enquiries

Mark Steels, Head of Corporate Communications
Gail Kent, Public Relations Officer
Telephone: 0171-238 8431
or, out of office hours, on 01399 1133 ext 786600.