24 September 1998
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 21:52:14 +0100 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: Dave Bird---St Hippo of Augustine <email@example.com> "Go-ahead for police to tap coded email" Forwarded from "Connected", Daily Telegraph, 24 Sep. 1998 By Annamarie Cumiskey GOVERNMENT plans to allow the police to "tap" electronic communications to combat online crime can now go ahead, as the European Union has watered down its plan to protect Internet privacy. In an attempt to stop a growing number of criminals communicating with each other using coded email, Labour is preparing new legislation, with the help of police experts, to regulate encryption of email. In a recent report presented to the EU, the Government argued: "Where an encryption key is used for confidentiality purposes, it may be necessary for law enforcement agencies to have lawful access in certain circumstances." The report suggested that access could be either overt or covert. According to Labour's plans, the manufacturers of encryption software produced or sold in Britain can voluntarily licence software so that the police, using a warrant, can obtain the decoding keys and covertly "tap" a suspect's email. A European Commission initiative to promote electronic commerce in Europe by using encryption to safeguard valuable information on the Web almost derailed the Government's plan. But Britain and France insisted that the EU could not legislate on a national security issue, forcing Brussels to water down its plan. Britain may have beaten the Commission but its attempt to persuade the other EU countries to adopt the same type of interception system failed. Last July, EU home affairs and justice ministers disagreed with Britain that unconditional access to emails is necessary to fight cross-border crime. The Business Software Alliance insists that encryption is necessary to reassure Internet users that their private commercial transactions will remain private. But the computer industry can no longer depend on the EU to stop member states allowing access to electronic transactions. Originally, the EU planned to publish a draft directive this autumn to allow national police to unscramble emails once a court order was granted to obtain the manufacturer's decoding key. Instead, member states can now adopt their own encryption rules, subject to EU approval. According to a Commission official: "There was so much opposition from member states, it was very unlikely that a draft directive would have been adopted." The official explained that member states can now legislate on encryption, but may face a European Court challenge if the new rules hamper electronic commerce in Europe or cross-border encryption software sales. The official warned: "National security access to scrambled transactions must be in proportion to the perceived threat to national security." Member states must now find a compromise solution. A draft European data protection law awaiting adoption obliges member states to protect data to an appropriate level. For example, electronic banking transactions will require "strong" encryption protection. The draft law has forced France to lift its ban on strong encryption software and introduce a "key deposit" system, allowing the police to unscramble the emails of suspected criminals. --end--
Thanks to Irvine Welsh for "Filth," and for creating Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, "one of the most compelling, misanthropic characters in contemporary fiction, and surrounded him in a dark and disturbing and often scaborously funny novel about the abuse of everything and everybody."