Encryption law could mean jail time

It is now a crime to refuse to decrypt almost any encrypted data requested by authorities as part of a criminal or terror investigation under new laws which have just come into effect in the UK.

Part 3, Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000, which includes provisions for decryption requirements that are applied differently based on the kind of investigation underway, was included when RIPA was first introduced, but not activated until now.

Failure to hand over either cryptographic keys or data in a decrypted form that resides in the UK on is hosted on UK servers and affects a police or military anti-terrorism investigation could now cost the data holder up to five years in prison. All other failures to comply can lead to a maximum two-year sentence.

But the law does not authorise the government to intercept encrypted materials in transit on the internet via the UK or to attempt to have them decrypted under the auspices of the jail time penalty.

The law has been criticised for giving authorities too much power to access sensitive data. A financial institution could find itself having to hand over information relating to financial transactions and customers in the event of an investigation to track the movement of terrorist funds, for example.

And the receipt of a Section 49 notice could result in encryption key holders being prevented from revealing their part in any investigation to anyone but their lawyer.

The Home Office however maintains the law is aimed at catching terrorists, pedophiles, and hardened criminals, who it said are familiar with using encryption to avoid discovery.

However, it has been suggested a pedophile may prefer five years in jail for withholding information rather than a potentially longer term for abuse charges.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.