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E-conomy Friday, 5 March, 1999, 17:58 GMT
Encryption: the law enforcement view

The UK's law enforcement agencies fear that, if allowed to develop unchecked, encryption technology could become the standard means of communication among criminals.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) submitted its concerns and those of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Crime Squad and HM Customs & Excise to the Commons' Trade and Industry Select Committee recently.

E-conomy - Code of Conduct
"Criminals have continuously demonstrated their ability to exploit new technologies but encryption has the potential to give them an unassailable advantage," it said.

Encryption can reduce crime

It recognises encryption and its inclusion in electronic commerce as a force for good in helping to tackle fraud, theft of intellectual property and computer misuse.

But it wants law enforcement to have effective tools to tackle serious and organised crime, including drugs traffickers, paedophiles and terrorists.

It favours a mandatory key escrow policy of licensed bodies - Trusted Third Parties - holding the keys to coded communications so that law enforcement agencies can retrieve the keys with a warrant when they strongly suspect serious crimes are being committed.

In addition, it wants the power to request from anyone a key that will help to decrypt lawfully obtained material. This would address the gap left as a result of criminals using unlicensed encryption products.

UK stands alone

Addressing the objections of industry that no other country is considering legislation on the issue, NCIS argues the government has a duty to public safety. It says regulation can actually build trust rather than damage it.

NCIS admits the threat of encryption is limited at present but says technology is advancing so quickly that it will soon be as simple and convenient to use encryption as not.

"Mobile telephones will be replaced by devices capable of receiving all forms of encrypted digital transmission including speech,pager messages, e-mail or material downloaded from the Internet. this is where the major threat to the law enforcement agencies' capabilities lies."

See also:

03 Mar 99 | Science/Nature
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