A forthcoming government bill concerning Internet communication directly contravenes the European Convention of Human Rights, according to a report published on Wednesday by leading civil liberty rights groups.
The report states that proposed decryption powers included within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill are in breach of human rights laws because of a recommendation that law enforcers have the power to imprison anyone who does not hand over the digital keys required to decrypt encrypted information. The piece of legislation was drafted by the government to combat the threat of criminal and terrorist groups using encrypted communications.
RIP is essentially a rehashed version of the widely criticised proposals originally included within the government's broader E-commerce Bill. It has continued to attract criticism in its new form, with technical experts and e-commerce representatives claiming the measures are unworkable and economically unsound.
Wednesday's report, the Human Rights Legal Audit, was commissioned by Justice, the human rights legal organisation, and government policy think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR). It will be released at a London convention on computer-related liberties today. The report canvasses opinion from legal experts who conclude that the bill breaks human rights regulations because:
It violates the presumption of innocence
It infringes upon the right not to self-incriminate
There are inadequate safeguards against abuse of the measures.
The report suggests that the only way to overcome these transgressions is for individuals to deny all knowledge of decryption keys or use stegnography (a means of making data undetectable).
Madeleine Colvin, legal policy director at Justice, commented: "As these are significant breaches, we expect the Home Office to engage in open debate on how far this bill will fail to be human rights compliant in practice, rather than merely asserting that it is".
However, a home office spokesman repeated the claim that there are no conflicts with individual rights: "The primary purpose of the RIP bill is to ensure that investigatory techniques are properly regulated by law, and in the view of the Home Secretary, the bill is fully compliant with the European Commission of Human Rights." The spokesman also pointed out that all legislation must be deemed compliant with European law by the European Parliament before it can be published.
Government representatives, members of opposition parties and campaigners will discuss these issues at a conference entitled Scrambling for Safety today.
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