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Encryption tears holes in RIP

Could there be a way to dodge government snooping?

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A group of cryptographers think they have found a way to defeat the RIP Act, by making it impossible to hand over the keys to encrypted information.

The section of the act that has caused so much controversy in the UK gives the government the right to the plain text of, or key to, enciphered information. However, if a person has used an ephemeral key, they never know what the key is and so cannot pass it on to a third-party, and it is this vulnerability that the group wishes to exploit.

They state that their aim is "to defeat RIP Act Part3 and make it look silly, and to allow UK citizens to communicate and to store information without worrying about it. We are doing this so people can be private elsewhere than in our heads. We object to the idea that people should not be allowed to seek privacy from governments."

Lead by mathematician Peter Fairbrother, M-o-o-t is an amalgamation of encryption specialists and civil liberties campaigners, of whom most have chosen to remain anonymous. They aim to have software ready to ship by June 2001, in time for the "activation" of the RIP Act.

The group plans to ship M-o-o-t on CD. It is an alternative operating system that doesn't use local storage. That way, the group says, if your computer is seized by police, there will be nothing for them to find.

Fairbrother, quoted in IT paper Computer Weakly, said: "It is technically impossible to have an effective law, because of the state of cryptography. RIP says you have to give a key but you can use an ephemeral key - where you never knew what the key was."

He went on: "The thing that amazes me is that the Government is putting in laws that a simple hobby cryptographer can overcome." ®

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The group has posted its work-to-date online for peer review and discussion. Check it out and let us know what you make of it.

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