This was originally posted to benscomputer.no-ip.org 14 Nov 2007
This story caught my eye as it holds consequences for all of us. Well those of us that use encryption anyway, as you may be aware on the 1st October 2007 RIPA came into effect. To but the law basically, if you encrypt something then the police can require you to hand over your encryption keys. If you don't and it's not terror related then you can get 2 years in the slammer, if it is terror related then you are looking at 5 years.The important thing in the paragraph above is that the Police can require you to hand over your keys, the Crown Prosecution Service cannot. Yet in the case of an Animal Rights Activist they have 'invited' her to hand over the keys, or else.
Now I'm no animal rights activist myself, some of them commit some terrible acts in trying to acheive what they believe to be right, but this story bodes badly for the rest of us so I thought I would publish it.
The Register is carrying some details on the story and by the soudns of it, they agree with my point of view on the matter.
The RIPA rules that seem to be being brought into play have been present in law for a good number of years, but were only activated at the beginning of October. They have been a source of debate over Privacy rights, the view of the Authorities is that Terrorists encrypting data is hampering anti-terror actions, and this is why the rules have been activated. But by the same token, although it may mean that they get a harsher punishment, no terrorist in their right mind is going to hand over the encryption key. So the new laws will allow us as a society to punsih the Terrorist some more, but will not speed up the investigation whatsoever.
The Activist has posted her story on Indymedia, and a few of the comments make for interesting reading. As she is an Animal Rights Activist, depending on the activities she gets involved in, she could well be classed as a Terrorist and therefore incur the full 5 years.
She claims that she never encrypted any data, because she could never get on with PGP. It is quite possible that this is the case, but either way if she cannot remember the decryption key it is up to the Police to show that she can remember for the rules to be applied. By the same token however, if the prosecution were able to portray her as a liar, then the judge (or magistrates as the case may be) may be inclined to view her as a liar on the case of the missing keys as well. It is very, very difficult to categorically prove that you cannot remember something, so I believe the law requires further clarification in this area.
Is it right that the Police can request this data from you? If you look at the full picture, they first have to require a clear-text version of the encrypted documents. This request can be issued by more or less any Police Officer in the course of an investigation, should they require your encryption keys, then the same section 49 request should be made, but needs to be authorised by a Chief Constable.
It is an issue that may well spark of more heated debate sometime in the future, we are definitely becoming more and more of a nanny state. It's time we turned this Country around, so that all may benefit.