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Think you've had a bad week? Allow us to make it worse. DTI civil servants spelt out on Monday the details of the UK's long-awaited crypto legislation. Under the new law, Government-approved encryption authorities will be obliged to keep a copy of your private key and hand it over to the authorities when requested by a "senior police officer" (as opposed to the Home Secretary, as in phone taps). It will be a criminal act for these authorities to tell you that your key has been revealed. Now, in a better world (such as the one we're just leaving), no one would use these government authorities because -- as every expert in crypto has warned -- a key escrow system like this is fundamentally insecure. You're better off with a free copy of PGP (or even your browser's security features). So, to encourage you, the government has declared only digital signatures created by these approved companies will be accepted in law. What's that you say? What have digital signatures and encrypting messages got in common? Well, you're right -- nothing. But you can bet the lawmakers won't mention that. This is a piece of legislation that requires an ignorant public to succeed. Talking of which, why haven't you heard of this before? While the government have yet to release any information through official channels, DTI personnel at the ICX conference confirm all of the above, and have declared the basic principles of this regulation "not open for discussion". In this, as so many other matters, they're wrong. DTI officials have their own signing authority -- a third party known as Parliament. Next week, in an NTK special, we'll tell you how you can hack into this trusted service provider through a backdoor known as "public accountability", and that way decode what these buffoons are assuming is a secret transmission only they should understand. Once again: why it's bad for civil liberties and why it's technically incompetent and makes no business sense at all This article first appeared in NTK.NET © 1998.

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