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Encryption keys handed to police

UK gov't ecommerce bill enables access to code cracking technology

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UK police will be able to demand access to encryption codes if they suspect criminal use of the Internet, thanks to the government's draft ecommerce bill. The bill was unveiled today with the stated aim of making the law in the UK e-friendly, so that within three years, the UK is the best place in the world to trade electronically. The general gist of the bill was that the telecoms industry would be simpler and more open, and that encryption and electronic signatures would be admissible in court. IT minister, Michael Mills, said that the bill would boost the public's confidence in the security of ecommerce. Communications once legally restricted to paper -– such as company statements to shareholders -- will be acceptable in electronic form. Also, minimum standards are to be set down for cryptography services, and amendments to telecom licenses should be simpler to avoid referrals to the Competition Commission. The most controversial part of the bill is the proposal that law enforcement agencies will be able to serve decryption notices on those suspected of using encryption for criminal purposes. Home Office minister, Paul Boateng commented: "Encryption is a double edged sword -- both vital to the ecommerce revolution and at the same time exploited by criminals to often devastating effect." Investigations into drug traffickers, paedophiles and terrorist were being hampered by encryption, he said. "Giving law enforcement access to decryption keys will help maintain their effectiveness in the battle against serious crime." The government also said that it hopes to have an ecommerce code and electronic hallmark ready by the end of the year. Details were published in a white paper on Thursday, which also announced a new Web site, the Consumer Gateway. ®

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