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 for the interception of user logs and emails of suspected criminals by the security and intelligence services. It became law in 2000, but the final part was scheduled to come into force in late 2006.

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

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

MPs and industry experts have slammed the legislation as unworkable and potentially dangerous for both justice and business. It has also been pointed out that the provisions of the Act can be avoided with a small amount of technical knowledge. "I worry how securely confiscated encryption keys will be stored, and under what conditions, said Dr Nicko van Someren, co-founder and CTO of nCipher. "Who could have access to your businesses data? Also, police may find themselves with more data exposed than they needed, and could potentially prejudice other investigations or court cases. I think prosecutions using this legislation will be very tough to get."