Yesterday's House of Commons Committee stage debate on the controversial Terrorism Bill 2005 brought up the subject of Encryption in the context of the extremely controversial Clause 23 "90 days detention without charge".
Dan Norris : On encryption, it is possible for someone to walk off the street into a store and buy a 192-bit encryption device, which is based on American military technology. Our security services are able to access that technology and counter it. They need the initial period of a few weeks to work out what the code is.
Such pathetic ignorance about encryption technology is, unfortunately, all too common within NuLabour.
David Heath (Liberal Democrat,
Somerset Somerton and Frome) responded:
Mr. Heath: No, I must make progress.
On the other point made by the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris), as I understand it, the encryption can be removed either in a relatively short period or not at all. If someone is serious about stopping a criminal offence and putting someone before a court, there is a perfect pretext, if I may say so, if they refuse to give the key to the encryption. I cannot for the life of me understand why that is not used.
David Heath was referring to the existing powers set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Part 3 Investigation of Electronic Data Protected by Encryption etc., which, astonishingly have still not yet been brought into force by the Home Office, after 5 years !
Even more astonishingly, this Terrorism Bill 2005 is set to amend the penalty for these as yet unused legal powers.
According to today's Amendment Paper as at Thursday 3rd November 2005, there are no amendments
which deal with
15 Maximum penalty for contravening notice relating to encrypted information
How can the decision to make something a "national security case" work in practice ? If there is an investigation into say credit card fraud, whiere use is made of encryption keys, does the 2 years in prison penalty apply, or since some terrorists, sometimes make use of credit card fraud, does the whole case become a "national security one" ?
This would not be decided by a Judge, it would be decided by the "belief" of the police or intelligence agents who are applying for the disclosure notice.
Who asked for this clause ? It is not even what the Association of Chief Police Officers' "shopping list" of new powers asked for - they wanted Part 3 of RIPA to be brought into force.
Will the Opposition vote this unecessary clause out of the Bill, or will it just go through "on the nod", because most MPs have no clue ?
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 seems to be entwined with the Terrorism Bill 2005:
There is a Labour "backbench rebel" amendment which tries to repeal sections 17 and 18 of the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the bit which precludes the use of electronic intercept material (e.g. phone taps or the contnent of intercepted email) from being used as evidence in court.
Tony Blair and his various NuLabour Home Secretaries have dithered over this issue for years, and it seems unlikely that they will accept an amendment, as the mechanism for changing this, even if that is what they intend to do eventually.
There is also clause 31 Interception warrants where the level of scrutinty for repeated or renewed interception warrants or certificates will be delgated to a faceless, unaccountable bureaucrat, instead of being personally signed , and hopefully read, by the Home Secretary.
This was touted as being a democratic safeguard when RIPA was passed, so what is the justification for removing such a safeguard ?
If the job of scrutinising such intercept warrants is too much for Charles Clarke, he should be delgating the task to an independent Judge, and not to a faceless civil servant.
There do not seem to be any amendments tabled on this clause, so, again, it is likely to be passed "on the nod" by the easily distracted Opposition, and the ignorant NuLabour lobby fodder.
Terrorism Bill 2005