Feeds

Police go slow with encryption key terror powers

Is the threat enough?

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

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. ®

Application security programs and practises

More from The Register

next story
UK.gov's Open Source switch WON'T get rid of Microsoft, y'know
What do you mean, we've ditched Redmond in favour of IBM?!
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
US Social Security 'wasted $300 million on an IT BOONDOGGLE'
Scrutiny committee bods probe derailed database project
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Australia floats website blocks and ISP liability to stop copyright thieves
Big Content could get the right to order ISPs to stop traffic
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.