Feeds

back to article Police go slow with encryption key terror powers

New powers to force terror suspects to hand over encryption keys have been used in only eight criminal investigations, prompting fears that police could be bypassing courts by spooking suspects with the mere threat of extra jail time. Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001 (RIPA) has been used eight times …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Silver badge

With a search warrant it is OK

Just like asking for the keys to a safe.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

what password?

"Tell us the password/encryption key"

"I have no idea , could it be jimbob?"

"Tell us"

"I cant remember"

"You will go to prison for 5 years"

"I don't have a clue"

I am sorry but who is capable of proving whether you can remember or not? Personally I struggle remembering the 200 odd passwords I have now, for banking (of which I have at least 7 passwords across two accounts), my works passwords for the network (where I have 6 all of which need to be different) all of which have to change every 40 days, and cant have more than three letters occuring the same in the last 24 attempts, etc, etc

Jeepers the chances of me remembering a file password I have on my pc is pretty bloody low, especially if the file is more than about 3 months old and I haven't used it.

0
0
Thumb Down

Hey Rocky -- watch me pull a key out of

my cold dead fingers now that all my human rights and right to privacy has been trampled over by nefarious types purporting themselves to be security gurus....

PRESTO!

0
0
Ru
Silver badge
IT Angle

Maybe not quite so remarkable

"Simon Davies of Privacy International, which campaigned against section 49 of RIPA when legislation was being drafted, was surprised at the low figure. "That number is remarkable, given the abuse of RIPA by quangos and local councils," he said."

Consider that the people involved in the frivolous use of RIPA might a) rather use it covertly, and demanding encryption keys from school-hunting parents isn't exactly subtle, b) havn'et got round to lifting computers yet, or c) simply don't understand the technology or its possible uses.

Freedom from Oppression through Incompetence. I guess that will have to do for now ;-)

0
0

Increased use jeopardizes the push for 42 days

One of the reasons punted around to justify the Government's ambition to increase maximum holding time without charge to six weeks is that it gives them time to crack encrypted hard drives (USB sticks, floppy disks, punched tape, whatever).

However, S.49 destroys that argument.

Plod: I see you have an *encrypted* partition, sir, care to tell me what it contains?

Scally: Not really.

Plod: I fear that I must charge you with failing to disclose encryption keys, tsk, what a nuisance. Nevertheless, I shall have no difficulty in knowing just where you are for the next five years, as our enquiries progress. Good morning.

0
0
Joke

So terrorists in Northern Ireland are safe?

<i>Investigators can only obtain a section 49 order from a judge in England and Wales, or from a County Sheriff in Scotland.</i>

So if say there were a terrorist organization operating in Northern Ireland they wouldn't be covered?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

I'd take my chances with a jury

They've got to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I am withholding the keys and that I simply haven't just forgotten them.

And even if I was convicted... five years, out in two and a half. Still might be out before GCHQ cracked the keys in the first place.

0
0
Silver badge

what is encryption anyway?

OK, so the cops smash down your door, ransack the house, kick the dog and take away your PC.

On the disk they find several files with names like "plan1.enc" and since they can't read the format, they assume the files are encrypted. While you're in the cell, suspended by your toes from the rafters the head interrogator comes in and demands to know your password. Assuming he means the login password, you tell him there isn't one (as is most frequently the case). He assumes you're lying and beats you up a bit more. After you regain conciousness, he asks again - this time actually saying what he meant: the passwords for the encrypted files. Again you deny any knowledge and tell him there aren't any encrypted files. Sometime later, you some back around.

After your period of detention without trial, when you actually get before the beak, the accusation is made that you refused to disclose your passwords and can the court impose an extra 5 year sentence for this heinous crime, too, please? Since the cops - with all their fine equipment have been unable to break the encryption using a brute-force method, they assume you're a terrorist and that the data contained within is therefore a threat to national security and you're to be shipped off to somewhere dark and secluded for the rest of your natural - to safeguard the law-abiding population - of course.

Enter a newbie recruit into the police's all-encompassing security division. She is going through your PC as a training exercise and notices the odd files, with the .enc extensions. She gets out an old copy of Lotus 1-2-3 and starts reading your household accounts. Over coffee, later that morning she mentions this to her boss, who then reports to his boss and so it goes up the ladder: your .enc files weren;t encrypted, just as you had always claimed.

IT'S JUST THAT THE POLICE WERE UNABLE TO READ THEM

and therefore assumed the worst. This is a case of having to prove yourself innocent. You're very lucky, because the person in the next cell tells a similar story - except in their case, the files didn't contain any content at all. They were just blocks of truly random numbers that he was using to test a random number generator - hence no decryption algorithm in the world could extract plaintext from the "ciphertext"

Moral: just because you can't read a file, doesn't mean it's encrypted. Just because the "criminal" doesn't give you the password, doens't mean a file is encrypted, just because a block of data looks like encrypted data doesn't mean it is.

This is a very dangerous area as the only way to prove that data is harmless is to decrypt it - which is not always possible.

0
0
Paris Hilton

Very dodgy law..............

So how do you prove it if someone denies knowing a key, or gives a wrong one by accident or design?

Paris, because she probably thinks a knapsack problem means you cant get all your makeup AND your stupid yapping dog in it.

0
0
Unhappy

it was a police operational matter...

ie "We haven't got a clue"

0
0
Alert

Hmmmm...

Police: "You are under arrest .. you have the right to remain silent"

Police: "What is the password for your encrypted data"

Perp: " .... "

Police: "Awwww crap !!"

0
0

Deciphering Powers

Encryption is still new and a bit confusing to many non-technical individuals. Using encryption will become more common in the future, and therefore will be needed/used when it does. For once, a law is in place before it is desperately needed.

0
0
Thumb Down

Section 49 and Plausible Deniability

Plausible deniability is basically an undetectable* section within the main crypto file which uses a different key. TrueCrypt has an implementation of such a system.

So you can provide a key, it'll let the police in, but anything you really don't want them to see will still be hidden. As the hidden section is undetectable*, how are they aver going to prove there is a second key?

It's not just terrorists that need to fear the UK's ever-expanding police state; private citizens should be concerned too.

*Just be smart with the sizes. A large undetectable section will be pretty obvious if the "normal" section is tiny.

0
0
Bronze badge

Reading a related article, and the HO guidelines

regarding this damn RIPPER act....I see that EITHER you must provide them with the key, OR give them the file in plain text. No need to do both, it seems - see below. So, give 'em some loada bollox like (certainly in my case ;-) your CV, saying you wanted to send it protected, then give the key to the prospective employer "by another means". Yep, Guv, that's the file. Honest, Injun.

See: 50 Effect of notice imposing disclosure requirement

Subject to the following provisions of this section, the effect of a section 49 notice imposing a disclosure requirement in respect of any protected information on a person who is in possession at a relevant time of both the protected information and a means of obtaining access to the information and of disclosing it in an intelligible form is that he—

(a) shall be entitled to use any key in his possession to obtain access to the information or to put it into an intelligible form; and

(b) shall be required, in accordance with the notice imposing the requirement, to make a disclosure of the information in an intelligible form.

One other thing, is correspondence with a solicitor/legal representative exempt? Bloody should be!

0
0
Flame

Computer system that can beat this lame law

I wonder what would happen if you had an encrypted computer system where you didn't have access to the keys? What would the law do about that?

Consider the following:

2 computers that have completely encrypted HDDs (with different keys) and network boot off each other. The first computer holds a basic OS and encryption key of the other machine, and vice versa. When you turn on 1 machine, it boots off the LAN and gets the key for its own HDD from the boot server, decrypts is disks and runs as normal. When the other computer is rebooted, it does the same: boots off the LAN and gets its HDD's key from the other server. You would need a 3rd computer when setting up this system, and you'd need copies of the keys, but to be legal you'd have to destroy the copies once your machines are running.

Of course, turn off both computers at once and you'll be stuck with 2 bricks.... but thats the idea: this computer system would be near-raid proof, and law proof, because as a person you don't have the encryption keys at all. And law enforcement would be unable to get the keys off the machines either.

PS Whichever retarded register employee deleted the anonymous account shared from bugmenot is an arse. But not as much as their boss, who no doubt ordered the removal of the anon account. Does someone really think that if the anon account is deleted then people with just give up and throw their personal info at you? Don't be stupid, they'll make more throw-away accounts and provide you with crap when signing up, further diluting the private info stash and making it useless.

0
0
Unhappy

What about the right to remain silent?

AFAIK this is one of the most basic laws under almost any jurisdiction. Even the European Court of Human Rights has held that 'the right to remain silent under police questioning and the privilege against self-incrimination are generally recognised international standards'

Basically this RIPA should become RIP asap.

0
0
Thumb Down

The problem with TrueCrypt

Is that you can never prove that you have given up all the keys and that you don't have more stashed away. Automatic 5 years for you even if you only use it to encrypt your personal finances.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

6 out of 8 refused to release the key

Yet only 2 have been charged. Hence the law is selectively applied, which is death to any law.

0
0
Thumb Down

@ Clemens Wachter

You EU right to remain silent went partially down the toilet last february, when the ECHR ruled that the UK law that makes failure to provide the name of the driver of a vehicle (required under S172 of the Road Traffic Act) a criminal act stands. That is, you have no right of silence, and no protection from self incrimination under coercion, the coercion being that if you don't incriminate your self, you're jailed for failing to provide said evidence, hence damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The other right that went down the toilet wast PACE - having made a confession on paper, the police then use this as the sole evidence to convict you. PACE (The Police and Criminal Evidence Act) states that any confession made WHILST NOT UNDER CAUTION is inadmissible. However, the ECHR decided that your written confession, made without caution, doesn't fall into that category, and can be used against you, bearing in mind said confession was made under threat of prosecution.

0
0
Bronze badge

shared secrets

what if I use a secret sharing scheme to encrypt my laptop drive, and split the key between myself and my mate? Both of us have to be present to access my files, so can my mate be forced to provide the missing key info if the gubmint finds out I've been using the laptop for nefarious purposes?

0
0

alzheimers and encryption code

what happens if someone has alzheimers and forgot their encryption code or had misplaced where they put their password? are they bound by section 49?

0
0
Thumb Down

Chris, where did you get your numbers?

"The Home Office told The Register that the four other investigations where the powers have been used were: conspiracy to murder; withholding information in relation to conspiracy to murder; conspiracy to defraud; and making indecent images of children."

What about this guy?

https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/11/385589.html

A girl who has been protesting against Huntingdon Life Sciences and had her computer taken in May 2007. After RIPA came in (Oct 2007) the police used it retroactively to demand encryption keys.

She admits to having used PGP, but says it was too complicated so stopped using it. Now she is being threatened with prison for failing to provide information that she does not possess.

Maybe they've changed the definition of terrorist to include anyone who has anti-terrorist legislation used against them - which is basically anybody stopped by the police.

0
0
Dead Vulture

What if...

What is you use a fingerprint / biometric scanner?

Or a usb encryption dongle?

Or one-time passwords?

Or time sensitive passwords?

Or a 2 stage combo: password + correct answer to personal question?

Or a passphrase with multiple space characters (or unicode characters)?

Or, or, or, or....

Remember, good security requires something you are, something you know, and something you have...

Hmmm... maybe finally found good use for RFID implants?

0
0

right to silence

i thought when presented with a demand for data its not so much a right to silence as a right to have your fingers broken if *you* tell anyone?

there are ways round it of course, but i'd have thought the people they are probably using this against don't want or are scared out of talking about it.

after all the mere threat from plod of disclosing they are searchng your computer for 'possibly indecent pictures' (implying they are of kids/animals/people being lightly spanked/etc) but in practice could be anything...

would *you* go to the papers over that, and for bonus points: would they be interested in your story if they did?

this is one of them laws thats pointless, if you have some serious data encrypted and need it hidden from the plod the 2-5 years is nothing compared to giving them the key. so they don't get the data. otherwise they do get the data but can't nick you for it.

*yawn* another tool aimed at 'terrorists and child abusers' that in practice will be used against protesters of one sort or another the guv don't like.

0
0
Unhappy

@shared secrets, @what if

Sorry .. outside the *UK*

0
0
Anonymous Coward

pass word fun

Were I work at we have four systems that have shared logins.

Our new sysadmin dint find the passwords to funny so he changed them. They use to be, I dont know, fuk u, high times dirty bastard.

I can see it now. what the password. I dont know, tell me the password I dont know .

0
0

@shared secrets, @what if

They ask the other guy for the password. Or they ask you for whatever it takes to unlock the files if it's not a password.

This isn't something that can be defeated trivially. Either they get the data, or you get prosecuted under the act.

Perhaps if the only password was held by some person or machine outside the US, that might work.

Perhaps if we all made a point of sending each other streams of random characters, then the act would be seen as useless. "There is no password, it's just random data" ::prison door slams:: (repeat n times)

I don't know about you, though, but I'm not brave enough to be the first to start.

0
0

Missing Something...?

I must be missing something obvious. I mean, disregarding the bulk of the comments that have been essentially just another run-through of all the original complaints about this law, something strikes me as odd.

Obviously, I know that the police are EVIL. Without exception, they're all corrupt, violent and racist and want to take over the country. I know that, 'cos people on the Reg tell me so with some regularity. And I know it was EVIL of the police to pass this law in the first place, and they got rightly slammed for doing so.

But... but now we have a report that seems - at least as I read it, which is no doubt wrongly - to be saying that the police haven't used that law very much... and they're getting slammed for that too?

So let me get this right: if they use it, they're evil. If they don't use it, we *assume* that they're threatening people with it and they're evil anyway.

Are there other possibilities, I wonder? Such as that they're not finding the law all that useful? That they're applying it only in cases where they genuinely think it's required (as opposed to the 'hit everyone with it' technique that was widely predicted)? Or possibly that they don't generally think along those lines when they nick someone? Are any of these conceivable? Or do they just not fit in with the predetermined image?

0
0
Silver badge
Black Helicopters

This act is rather concerning...

I, and I'm sure many of you out there in techie land, have files that are encrypted lurking on your harddrive, which we do not have the key too... Many items of software, especially shareware, send you a licence key file which you have to either copy into a specific directory.

So how exactly do the feds determine which files are encrypted and known by you, and which are nothing to do with you really, and you don't have any idea what the key is?

The stupid thing is if you really want to encrypt and hide things, there are many encryption tools available (truecrypt for example) which can create an encrypted volume with multiple keys, which means you can conform to the law and provide the cops with a key, which will open the volume. What they don't realise is there is another key, which will open another volume from the same file where you can hide whatever you like. From the encrypted volume file it is impossible to tell if it contains only the one encrypted collection of files, or if there is a second one hidden in there too.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: This act is rather concerning

One well known example of a system that uses encrypted files to which you do not have the key is PerfectDark and other anonymising P2P systems, that use the technique of spreading data across multiple clients in encrypted form to hide its origin. For all anyone knows, you could have encrypted kiddie porn in the PerfectDark cache and never know it; nor would you have the ability to unlock the cache to check it. It would be interesting to see how the act would apply in such a case.

0
0

garbage

This is of course all garbage. Just as aircraft bombers now know that the best way to get explosives on a plane is to put them in your silly plastic bag and wave them at a security guard, who will ignore them. Downside risk - you get caught and get life in jail, but hey, you were planning DEATH anyway, so where's the problem? So the true file hider will just work with the system, and put the data in plain old word files deep on a disk labeled "Archived documents 2000 - 5", kept with a hundred similar CDs of any old random files, or do the really SMART thing - move it all onto ..... wait for it ..... paper.

0
0
Stop

Tell 'em nuthin'

Tell Mr Plod size 14 to bugger off.

Just say you don't even know what an encrypted file thingie is.

0
0
Boffin

Corruption and Fascism

Officer: What's the password

Me: "Go fuck yourself. Fascist"

Officer: Didn't work.

Me: "Odd, it worked yesterday. You must have corrupted the file."

0
0
Pirate

The act misses something important

many programs (including one I'm working on at the moment) require configuration data to be stored as encrypted data on the end user machine.

You end up with two situations:

1) The end user can't decode that data, so the data could be classed as whatever the investigation team want it to be. As you've played online poker, the server data file must be some form of terrorist plot.

2) The investigation team presume the data is attached to the software in question. A fine place to hide your data...

All laws should be a guideline; it's rather unfortunate that people treat them as gospel.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Steam

Save the files as an encrypted archive of a game preloaded on steam but never activated.

You don't have the key, you can't access the data, PC Farquit can sit and swivel :D

0
0

Maybe it is just fear...

Police seem very afraid of technology. Maybe they are just scared of this "new" tech.

We once had a server hacked at a company I worked for in Stoke. They sent two officers down to collect finger prints and determine a point of entry to the server room, it didn't occur to them that this could be done remotely and they needed more electronic methods to see what had happened.

They went a lovely shade of red when we explained what a hack was and what DDOS attack meant...

0
0

Re: Missing Something...?

"Are there other possibilities, I wonder? Such as that they're not finding the law all that useful? That they're applying it only in cases where they genuinely think it's required (as opposed to the 'hit everyone with it' technique that was widely predicted)? Or possibly that they don't generally think along those lines when they nick someone? Are any of these conceivable? Or do they just not fit in with the predetermined image?"

It's not a "predetermined image", it's a reasonable expectation based on prior behaviour.

Also, don't think we can rely on the government's figures for how often it's been used as I know of at least two occasions where this has been used against animal rights protesters - so that's at least a 25% discrepancy in the figures. This shows that they are obviously only reporting when it was used to charge someone as opposed just used as a threat.

If they say "We can send you to prison if you don't give us the key," and you give them the key, they haven't actually "used" the legislation. They have simply let you know that it exists should they wish to use it later.

0
0

Re: "Missing Something...? "

Where did you get all that straw???

There's only a minority of corrupt. However, the police have a code of silence that is very similar to omerta from the Mafia. And so they close ranks and back each other up "because we're all fighing the scum, right?". And that makes the entire police force responsible for the acts of the minority.

Quite different from "they're all corrupt", isn't it.

And as to the law, well if it isn't needed, how about getting rid of it? And that ALSO closes the ability of councils (who never were supposed to use it) to wheelde information out of people.

0
0

ANY encrypted file?

What about ones where you don't have the key? I.e. DVDs, iTunes or protected audio? How about company documents, or ones that, if MS's marketing bumph is correct, cannot be read without the proper AD systems in place authorising access (and what if the data has expired? No decrypt possible!).

0
0

@ Steve

@ Steve:

<< It's not a "predetermined image", it's a reasonable expectation based on prior behaviour. >>

And that's a different thing, is it? There have been corrupt police officers in the past, and no doubt still are some, and therefore all police are corrupt?

@ Mark:

<< Where did you get all that straw??? >>

I had to shop around. Most places had sold out. Now I see where it'd all gone.

<< code of silence ... close ranks ... back each other up ... >>

Oh, aye, sure they do... It's amazing, though, considering all that, how whenever one of them is accused of anything, they're left in the middle of a widening empty space, with bobbies on every side running for cover and denying they ever knew the guy... Either that or they're suspended pending an investigation, which can go on for years, throughout which they're generally treated like criminals, prohibited from contacting their workmates, and if and when they're found not guilty of whatever it was, they're grudgingly allowed back to work, usually without even an apology. Or both.

Anecdote? Rhetoric? Sure, I guess. But not really any worse than yours.

This article told us one thing: police have used this new power very few times.

After that, it's all assumption. It's assumption by the Privacy International guy that, if they're not actually *using* the law, they must be *threatening* people with it; and it seems that's an assumption a lot of people are happy to take as fact. In my view, this guy's opinion doesn't constitute news.

As a matter of fact, I don't like this law either. I'm wary of any law concerning IT that's passed by a government that quite clearly has no understanding of IT methods and mechanisms (witness the recent idea about forcing paedophiles to register email addresses). In fact, I'm wary of any fiddly little law that requires so much 'interpretation' and has no obvious purpose beyond expanding the surveillance state.

Yes - surprise - I'm a bit of a libertarian myself.

But let's not forget who's the *source* of the surveillance state: the Government, made up of supposed 'representatives' that *WE ELECT*. I don't go for the people whose duty it is to ENFORCE the laws that those uncontrolled, unaccountable 'representatives' create.

I'm not saying don't attack the police when they do something wrong, which I willingly acknowledge they do from time to time. And I'm not saying don't vilify officers who prove to be corrupt. You should. I'm just saying let's focus on the real problem, instead of wasting our energy tilting at windmills; albeit windmills with CS gas and batons. You can't have it both ways. If enforcing this law in large numbers would make the police evil, then you can't call them evil for NOT enforcing it. If it's the *existence* of the law we're worried about, then that's the fault of our politicians, not the police - and in theory, WE decide who our politicians are and what they're like. As the tired old homily goes, people get the government they deserve. So perhaps we ought to stop casting the blame at the easy target, take some responsibility, and actually utilise the democracy we reckon to be living in?

0
0
Silver badge

Privilege against self-incrimination

The classic rule is "...that no one is bound to answer any question if the answer thereto would, in the opinion of the judge, have a tendency to expose the deponent to any criminal charge, penalty or forfeiture which the judge regards as reasonably likely to be preferred or sued for."

Say, you have have a disc full of encrypted grossly obscene and disgusting JPEGs (say, pics from Dr. Gillian McKeith dietary guides) posession of which will soon become illegal. Surely, giving away the key to the CPS will have a "tendency to expose the deponent" to a criminal charge...

0
0

@Tasksis

Fair enough on your second post, but it does leave your first one flapping in the wind.

Because the main reason for it was to say that the police aren't using it, so it's not being abused and so don't worry about it.

That's what I took away from it anyway.

And your second post was correct. It just didn't say how the three things are connected. Why is the law there if the police won't use it? Why is the police not abusing it mean that the law is OK? And why is it OK to have a law that CAN be abused, even if the police aren't using it (because they'd have to use it before it can be abused).

0
0

@ Mark

<< Because the main reason for it was to say that the police aren't using it, so it's not being abused and so don't worry about it. >>

Not quite what I meant. I meant that it seems inconsistent to me to imply first that the police are tyrannical oppressors because they're *expected* to abuse this law; then, when it becomes apparent that for the moment at least they're *not* abusing it, to accuse them of being oppressors on the basis of an *assumption* (apparently) that, well, they *must* be threatening people with it instead.

As I said, I can't see how those of an anti-police persuasion can have it both ways - it seems a bit doublethink to me.

<< Why is the law there if the police won't use it? >>

Well, nobody picked up on my earlier comment about the police passing the law... But that was intended to make the point that, despite the pre-emptive accusations being levelled at the police, it *isn't* actually them that pass laws: it's government. The police are simply duty-bound to *enforce* the laws. But, where the law is more a tool, like this one, it seems a positive thing to me that the police aren't (for the moment at least) taking the opportunity to exploit it.

<< Why is the police not abusing it mean that the law is OK? >>

It doesn't, at all. This particular law is very far from okay. But the bulk of the criticisms here - at least the ones I'm responding to - are being levelled at the 'pigs'. But if the law is created by our supposed 'representatives', and the police don't use it (at least as much as we feared they might, and at least at the moment), then the criticism should surely be directed at those who *made* the law.

<< And why is it OK to have a law that CAN be abused, even if the police aren't using it >>

Again, it's not okay. And again, the criticism that I'm responding to is that preemptive variety that's largely based on generalised prejudice against the police and a presumption that, as a law enforcement agency, they must be automatons bent on subjugating the population under the unyielding rule of a totalitarian dictatorship. I see no reason to assume that most of them (bearing in mind I accept that they have their share of idiots and crooks, just as every group does) are just honest, taxpaying citizens trying to make the best of a bad lot, but without the political rights that the rest of us have.

Maybe I am living in fluffy bunny land, at that: but if I'm going to err, I'd rather err towards extending someone the benefit of the doubt until I've reason to assume them guilty. That goes for all citizens, including those who work as police officers.

Again, my only real point is that if you want to criticise law, criticise those who MAKE it, not those who're duty- and mortgage-bound to comply with it.

That's pretty much all I can say on the subject, and since I must've used up a year's worth of comment space already, I'll bow out.

0
0
Coat

Oops...

I don't know whether the mods'll let me have this one, but having just read through my last hefty post:

"I see no reason to assume that most of them ... are just honest, taxpaying citizens trying to make the best of a bad lot"

Should of course have read:

"I see no reason NOT to assume that most of them ... are just honest, taxpaying citizens trying to make the best of a bad lot"

Okay, okay, I'm really going this time, sorry...

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.