Government power over cryptography dented by Lords

A nail-bitingly close vote in the Lords on RIP powers to access encryption keys has forced the government to compromise but not to back down

An amendment that would significantly limit government powers to access encryption keys was defeated by just one vote in the House of Lords Thursday.

The RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) Bill has become the government's most controversial pieces of Internet legislation. Sweeping powers to snoop on email have met with widespread criticism. The business community is particularly worried that clauses giving law enforcers access to encryption keys will damage UK e-commerce.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat-led amendment, which would have allowed access to encryption keys only on production of an authorised warrant from the Secretary of State was defeated in the Lords by 119 votes to 120.

It was agreed that authorisation should be required from a chief constable or commissioner. This represents something of a compromise -- under government plans keys could be accessed by lower ranking police officers.

The Bill will receive its third reading in the Lords next Wednesday and campaigners are concerned that amendments to the Bill do not go far enough.

"An unprecedented wave of public disapproval has won significant concessions," says director of Internet policy think-tank FIPR (Foundation for Information Policy Research) Caspar Bowden.

"However if the UK becomes the only G7 economy with a Government Access to Keys (GAK) law, companies and their customers will think long and hard before conducting e-commerce in this country. There is still time to pause and reflect before enacting legislation that may have irreversible consequences."

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