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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT

UK Politics

Internet 'will boost crime'

Drug smuggling may be harder to combat in the future

The Internet may boost the ability of criminals to organise and commit crimes in secrecy, MPs have been warned.

Mark Castell looks at how law enforcement can deal with new technology
An official of the National Criminal Intelligence Service told MPs that in the future encryption technologies may enable criminals - such as terrorists, drug smugglers, money launderers and paedophile rings - to communicate with each other with little chance of detection.

Presenting evidence to the Commons Trade Committee, Mark Castell said: "How encryption is implemented in the market place is the critical issue, so far as law enforcement is concerned."

Concerns over law enforcement and public safety must be taken into account before encryption technology "imbeds itself in society", he said.

Encryption technology spreading

The issue of encrypting messages on the Internet is becoming increasingly pressing, the committee heard.

The development of e-commerce means encryption techniques are becoming widely available as secure means of conducting transactions over the Web.

Even relatively simple codes can take computer experts up to half-a-day to break and as they become more widespread enormous pressure could be placed on law enforcement resources.

NCIS Director General John Abbott told MPs he was in favour of setting up a statuary framework to enable his organisation to deal with encrypted messages.

The interception of information was an essential part of crime detection, he said.

NCIS believes it essential to have the law updated in order to enable it to access encrypted e-mails, albeit under tightly regulated circumstances.

Although Mr Castell admitted that the present generation of criminals were not computer wizards, he predicted that the next generation would be sophisticated users of information technology.

A customs official explains the threat posed by encryption
The Chief Investigations Officer for HM Customs and Excise, Richard Kellaway, stressed how important being able to intercept messages between criminals was to their efforts to combat drug smuggling.

An official from his department added: "One cannot emphasise how important it is to law enforcement to have a proper interception facility.

"We estimate that 60% of our drug seizures are related to the interceptions of communications."

"If we are not able to intercept communications clearly and in a timely fashion then that is the risk that's posed to the nation."

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