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Anti-filesharing laws revive crypto fears for spooks

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The UK's intelligence and law enforcement agencies fear the government's anti-illegal filesharing plans will lead to a rise in encryption, scuppering their own efforts to monitor the internet, it's claimed today.

Plans for an enforcement regime to target those who perisitently infringe copyright are set to be brought forward in next month's Queen's speech.

Whatever sanctions are eventually agreed - this week culture secretary Ben Bradshaw suggested suspension of internet access will require a court order - the system will involve gathering evidence from peer to peer networks.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have suggested public resistance to such prying could prompt many more to encrypt their internet connection and make monitoring more difficult, The Times reports.

As well as obscuring traffic to current analytical techniques, widespread encryption would also damage the case for the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), an ongoing multibillion-pound, cross-government attempt to to increase surveillance of the internet.

"The spooks hate it. They think it is only going to make monitoring more difficult," a source involved in drafting Lord Mandelson's Digital Economy Bill told the paper.

While the paper speculates the source is referring to MI5 and MI6, it's more likely that GCHQ, the other intelligence agency, is at the centre of the fears.

It is responsible for electronic spying, sits at the heart of the IMP, and has long battled public use of cryptography.

The agency's National Technical Assistance Centre acts as a central resource for cracking scrambled communications and stored data, used by police, MI5, MI6 and SOCA. Its limited resources are likely behind GCHQ's battle to against widespread take-up of encryption, and so fears over anti-filesharing legislation.

If more internet users were to use encrypted connection, it would at least in part blind the IMP. The Programme aims to intercept and details of who contacts whom, when, where and how in transit inside ISP networks (although not the content of the communication, which will require a warrant). Encryption would render third party communications services such Facebook effectively invisible.

Intelligence fears of being blinded by mass take-up of cryptography have emerged before however, and proven largely unfounded. After losing the "Crypto Wars", for example, GCHQ is known to have successfully lobbied for the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that make refusal to decrypt a criminal offence. Yet the power is rarely used.

The Met's Police Central e-Crime Unit and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, cited by The Times as sharing intelligence fears, both declined to comment.

It remains to be seen how harsh the measures against illegal filesharers will be. ®

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