Feeds

Police go slow with encryption key terror powers

Is the threat enough?

High performance access to file storage

New powers to force terror suspects to hand over encryption keys have been used in only eight criminal investigations, prompting fears that police could be bypassing courts by spooking suspects with the mere threat of extra jail time.

Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001 (RIPA) has been used eight times since coming into force at the start of October, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said.

Four of the cases were terrorism-related, and two people were charged for maintaining their refusal. Neither has been prosecuted yet, she said, responding to a parliamentary question from her Tory shadow, David Davis.

The Home Office told The Register that the four other investigations where the powers have been used were: conspiracy to murder; withholding information in relation to conspiracy to murder; conspiracy to defraud; and making indecent images of children.

In her parliamentary answer, Smith said that following the order, two of the encryption keys in the non-terrorism cases have been disclosed.

Simon Davies of Privacy International, which campaigned against section 49 of RIPA when legislation was being drafted, was surprised at the low figure. "That number is remarkable, given the abuse of RIPA by quangos and local councils," he said.

"It indicates to me the power was never really needed in the first place. However, it might be that the Home Office is having technical or legal problems using the power, especially around human rights legislation."

Failing to comply with a section 49 order is an offence and carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Investigators can only obtain a section 49 order from a judge in England and Wales, or from a County Sheriff in Scotland.

"I think it's likely that police are using the threat of the power to force people to disclose encryption keys - it carries a hefty prison sentence, and people could be being denied justice," Davies said.

The Home Office does not record if police threaten to use section 49 powers. A spokeswoman said it could not provide further details of the cases because it was a police operational matter. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.