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11 February 1998

From: Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet <>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 18:18:28 +0100
Subject:  Key escrow announcement

A source who is a lobbyist in a non-computer sector has just called me
to say that Margaret Beckett will be announcing a (compulsory?) key
escrow program next Tuesday.

So far I don't have independent confirmation, although Nigel Hickson
recently said here that he was expecting an announcement "soon".

Here's hoping we can get it out before the gvt machine controls the


Malcolm Hutty.

Campaign Against Censorship                    Tel: 0171 589 4500
of the Internet in Britain                     Fax: 0171 589 4522
Say NO to Censorship         Web:


Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 23:57:32 +0000
From: T Bruce Tober <>
Subject: More rumours?


Free Life Commentary                    
Editor:  Sean Gabb
Issue Number Ten
Tuesday 10th February 1998, 11:20pm

"Over himself, over his own mind and body, 
the individual is sovereign"
(J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 1859)

           Next Week's British Encryption Ban
                      by Sean Gabb

Earlier this evening, I was given confidential information by someone
close to a British Cabinet Minister.  I am not in the habit of speaking
to such people, let alone having them leak state secrets to me.  But
that is what happened.  In publishing what I heard, I am now risking a
prosecution under the Official Secrets Acts - or, more likely, being
made to look ridiculous if what I predict does not happen.  These risks
being accepted, here is the leak.

Next Tuesday, the 17th February 1998, the Department of Trade and
Industry will announce plans to outlaw the use of strong encryption
software within the United Kingdom.  We are to be encouraged - and
ultimately forced - to encrypt our e-mail only in ways that will allow
the authorities to read it.

My source was vague about the details of the scheme, saying that they
had not yet been circulated to the full Cabinet.  But I imagine that it
will be more or less a reprint of the Conservative Government's public
consultation paper of March 1997.  This came to nothing because of the
change of Government, and it was even hoped that Labour would have a
more liberal policy on Internet regulation.  However, Margaret Beckett,
the Minister now responsible for trade and industrial policy, is neither
bright nor forceful; and she was early captured by the officials who in
theory are supposed to do her bidding.  If next Tuesday's consultation
paper differs at all from the last one, it will be only in matters of
small detail and presentation.  For this reason, it is probably safe to
take the last paper as a guide to what we can expect.

The Government will propose creating a network of what are called
Trusted Third Parties, or TTPs.  These are to be organisations licensed
to provide encryption services to the public - that is, software,
consultancy and other support.  Because they have been licensed by the
State, we are to be encouraged to believe that they really are
trustworthy - that they are not distributing bad encryption software, or
robbing their clients in other ways.  But just in case we decide not to
believe any of this, it will be made illegal for any unlicensed person
to offer encryption services.  Here, it is worth quoting from last
year's consultation paper:

    The legislation will prohibit an organisation from offering or
providing encryption services to the UK public without a licence.
Prohibition will be irrespective of whether a charge is made for such
services.  The offering of encryption services to the UK public (for
example via the Internet) by an unlicensed TTP outside of the UK will
also be prohibited.  For this purpose, it may be necessary to place
restrictions on the advertising and marketing of such services to the

Enacted into law, this would make it illegal for me to copy encryption
software from my hard disk for a friend, and for computer magazines to
include it on their free cover disks.  It would also allow a strict
supervision of the material and the links given access to by British
sites on the World Wide Web.

The paper never clarifies why we need TTPs in the first place, or why -
their need granted - they can only be trusted if licensed by the State.
But it does say a lot about law enforcement and national security.  Or,
to be more accurate, it does say a lot in the usual code about the need
to fill in any last potholes on the road to a British police state.

Starting with the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the British
State has given itself powers of surveillance that a Third World
dictator might envy.  It can tap our phones on the word of a Minister.
It can burgle our homes and leave recording devices behind on the word
of a senior policeman.  It can trawl through and inspect any records on
us held by any organisation.  It can do all this without our knowledge,
and without any effective system of appeal and redress.  The relevant
laws are careful to describe the permissions for this as "warrants".
But they really are no more than what in France before the Revolution
were called Lettres du Cachet - things that our ancestors boasted did
not and could not exist in the freer air of England.

The spread of personal computers seemed likely at first to extend the
scope of surveillance still further.  This had until then been limited
by cost.  For all the theoretical risks, sending letters in sealed
envelopes through the post has always been reasonably secure:  the costs
of interception can only be justified in exceptional cases.  For the
same reason, most private papers are safe.  But the routing of an
increasing amount of mail through the Internet promised to bring down
the costs of surveillance to the point where everyone could be watched.
The storage of records on computers connected to the Internet promised
to make it possible for the authorities to spy on people by remote

The problem is the development of strong encryption software like pgp,
and its growing popularity among millions of ordinary people who, though
not criminals, have a strong regard for privacy.  It allows us to keep
our e-mail and private records secret to all but the most determined and
expensive attacks.  It gives to us the benefits of instant communication
and mass data storage, but keeps the authorities - despite their new
powers of surveillance - no better informed than in the old days of due
process and envelope steaming.

Therefore all the talk of Trusted Third Parties.  The terms of their
licences will require them to sell encryption software with keys that
cannot be modified by their clients, and to collect and store copies of
these keys for handing over to the authorities.  Last year's document is
full of promises about "strict safeguards" and the like.  But the
reality is this:

    The legislation will provide that the Secretary of State may issue a
warrant requiring a TTP to disclose private encryption keys... or a body
covered by that warrant.

No mention of judicial involvement at the time, or judicial review
afterwards - just more police state commands.

We can ignore anything the Government parrots next week about law
enforcement and national security - or, for that matter, child
pornography and complex fraud.  These really are just code words.  If I
were a criminal, or a terrorist, or a foreign spy, the last encryption
software I would use would come from a Trusted Third Party.  Strong
encryption packages are available all over the Internet, or can pass
from hand to hand on a single floppy disk.  Nor would I worry much about
laws against the transmission of data encrypted with unlicensed
software.  There are ways of keeping the authorities from even knowing
that an Internet message contains encrypted data.

Somewhere, I have an early version of a program called Steganography,
created by Romana Machado.  This takes an encrypted text and merges it
into a graphics file.  My version produces a visible degradation of
picture quality.  Almost certainly, the newer releases have solved this
problem.  Assuming I had them, and were sufficiently unpatriotic -
neither applies in my case, let me add - I could e-mail this country's
battle plans straight off to Saddam Hussain merged invisibly into a
picture of my dog.  GCHQ would never notice until the Scud missiles
began landing on Cheltenham.

No - the encryption ban will be aimed at us, the honest public.  We are
the people who tend to respect the law - or at least to be afraid of it
enough to comply in most cases.  It is our privacy that is to be
stripped away.  It is we who are to become like Winston Smith, living
for every moment when the telescreens are not monitoring our facial

Why this is desired I cannot say.  But we are living though an age of
withering trust in the common people.  In this country, we are not
trusted to possess guns for our self-defence - or indeed to carry carpet
knives locked inside our cars.  We are not trusted to choose and
administer our own medicines, or to bring up our own children in the
manner of our choice, or to decide whether or not oxtail soup might be
bad for us.  Plugging in the telescreens is only a logical next step.

Normally, when I write on these issues, I work myself into a frenzy of
pessimism.  At the moment, though, I feel rather optimistic.  Next
Tuesday's proposals will cause an uproar.  This will not come from the
so-called civil liberties groups like Liberty - excepting a few small
bodies like the Libertarian Alliance, they have all been taken over by
New Labour apparatchiks who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut.
It will come from the big business interests.

British Telecom is the third or fourth largest telecommunications
company in the world.  If operates in more than 40 markets, often
needing to provide its clients with very secure networks.  In the City
of London there are more representative offices of foreign banks than in
the rest of the European Union combined.  These have a taste for
confidentiality.  There are many other large interests - all paying
billions in taxes, all likely to be very hostile to any scheme that will
make them appear less useful to foreign clients.  We have a Labour
Government that still needs to establish itself in the public mind as a
party friendly to business.  These facts can surely be trusted to ensure
the dropping of a scheme that would not merely turn the country into a
full police state, but also do the greatest damage to British business
since nationalisation.

Or so I hope.
Free Life Commentary is an independent journal of comment, published on
the Internet.  To receive regular issues, send 
e-mail to Sean Gabb at

Issues are archived at


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Sean Gabb                               | "Over himself, over his own  |
E-mail:            | mind and body, the individual| 
<> | is sovereign"                |
Mobile Number: 0956 472199              | J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 1859  |

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|Bruce Tober,, Birmingham, England +44-121-242-3832|
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