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E-conomy Friday, 5 March, 1999, 17:58 GMT
Encryption: the civil-libertarian view

Encryption regulations certainly would not have won the government many friends among civil liberties campaigners.

Groups such as the Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain, the Foundation for Information Policy Research and the recently-formed Stand.org.uk resolutely oppose the idea, saying is was unworkable, an infringement on individual privacy and destined to stunt the growth of electronic commerce.

E-conomy - Code of Conduct
The activists have campaigned to break down the technical language of encryption - private and public keys, escrow and trusted third parties - and show that only the free use of encryption would protect individuals who communicate online.

Trustworthy enough?

Their main fear is the ease with which government or law enforcement agencies would be able to gain access to the public keys lodged with Trusted Third Parties.

That would give police the right to examine private electronic information without the search warrant they need if the information were transmitted on paper.

Critics say that such a key-recovery policy would give the government too much power and create temptation for abuse.

"The question is not whether any such interception and access to encryption keys is wrong, but whether it is safe to entrust all future governments in perpetuity with an unprecedented technical capability for mass surveillance," said Yaman Akdeniz, the founder of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties UK.

The Web's encryption experts warned a key-escrow policy would also set a bad precedent for countries where journalists and human rights activists use encryption to protect themselves from repressive governments.

Campaigning on the Net

The Internet has been harnessed for sophisticated lobbying campaigns for safe e-commerce legislation.

The Stand.org.uk Website, launched in December last year, urged visitors to adopt an MP and educate their local parliamentarian on the dangers to civil liberties posed by the impending legislation.

Stand was concerned that encryption proposals for the Electronic Commerce Bill would add billions to the cost of doing business online and drive companies and jobs overseas.

It said the proposed law allowing police access to the keys for encrypted e-mail would not catch a single criminal as they would be the last people to lodge their keys with the planned Trusted Third Parties.

See also:

05 Mar 99 | E-conomy
19 Sep 98 | Science/Nature
14 Dec 98 | Science/Nature
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