The Month: Government delays introduction of RIPA part III legislation

The Government has once again delayed the introduction of the controversial RIPA part III legislation, pending the outcome of a final consultation.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is intended to provide forthe interception of user logs and emails of suspected criminals by thesecurity and intelligence services. It became law in 2000, but the finalpart was scheduled to come into force in late 2006.

A spokesman for the Home Office could not explain the delay, but said itwas scheduled for this parliamentary session. Part III specificallyrefers to the use of encryption, and allows officers to demand theprivate keys to any encrypted files.

A public consultation paper was issued by the Home Office last summer ona draft Code of Practice for Part III, and the response deadline wasextended to late last month. "This type of consultation is standardbefore ministers make a final decision to ensure there are no industryissues with the legislation," the spokesman added.

MPs and industry experts have slammed the legislation as unworkable andpotentially dangerous for both justice and business. It has also beenpointed out that the provisions of the Act can be avoided with a smallamount of technical knowledge. "I worry how securely confiscatedencryption keys will be stored, and under what conditions, said Dr Nickovan Someren, co-founder and CTO of nCipher. "Who could have access toyour businesses data? Also, police may find themselves with more dataexposed than they needed, and could potentially prejudice otherinvestigations or court cases. I think prosecutions using thislegislation will be very tough to get."

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