The Government plans to bring into force a controversial power that can require the disclosure of an encryption key on pain of five years' imprisonment. The power has lain dormant for six years; but its time has come, says Home Office Minister Liam Byrne.
Back in 2000, the Government passed the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, better known as RIPA. Part 3 of RIPA has never been brought into force. It includes a power which allows certain authorities to force the disclosure of information that is stored in an encrypted form and it can force the disclosure of the encryption key itself. Section 53 of RIPA makes failing to comply an offence.
"The use of encryption is … proliferating," Byrne told the House of Commons last Wednesday. "Encryption products are more widely available and are integrated as security features in standard operating systems, so the Government have concluded that it is now right to implement the provisions of part 3 of RIPA, including section 53, which is not presently in force."
Parliamentary scrutiny is not required to bring part 3 into force. But Byrne said the Government will publish for consultation a draft statutory code of practice for the investigation of protected electronic data and the exercise of powers in part 3.
Under RIPA, the maximum sentence for a breach of section 53 was two years' imprisonment. However, the legislation was amended by the Terrorism Act 2006 such that any "national security case" can be punished with a maximum sentence of five years.
Struan Robertson, Editor of OUT-LAW.COM and a Senior Associate with Pinsent Masons, said: "When it was passed, RIPA evoked fears that innocent people would be sent to jail for forgetting their password. The Home Office will have a tough job addressing the renewal of these fears in its code of practice."
A Home Office spokesman told OUT-LAW that the consultation would be published soon. According to ZD Net UK, amendments may be made to part 3 after the consultation has been completed.