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The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is damaging UK businesses by delaying legislation on the use of cryptography and other secure messaging systems, according an expert from e-centre UK, a centre for research into e-commerce. Roger Till, director of e-centre UK, who last week gave evidence to the DTI as part of its ongoing enquiry, said recently: "The DTI is clearly having internal discussions, but they're going to have to hurry up if they're going to get anything out by Easter, as they promised." The e-centre also called for the government to lead by example in its approach to e-commerce. Till said: "If Britain is seen as a more difficult place to trade, it will discourage people from setting up business and trading here." This is particularly damning criticism as only last September, the then Secretary of State for the DTI, Peter Mandelson, made the modest claim: "By the end of this Parliament, I want the UK to be globally recognised as the best environment in which to trade electronically." The problem, according to Till, is not a lack of understanding on the part of the DTI, but rather, a misguided belief that the government must somehow protect the public from criminals wishing to misuse strong encryption to communicate. Till went on: "We fully understand the need for the police to have access to key information in certain circumstances - the main issue at stake is how best to achieve that without hindering the take up of electronic commerce." The French government's recent U-turn on encryption policy, allowing companies to export up to 128-bit encryption, is an indication that the UK is already be falling behind in it's policy on e-commerce. ®

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