UK Ruling Says Authorities Can Force You To Hand Over Your Encryption Key

from the self-incrimination-means-different-things-across-the-pond dept

A year ago, there was a legal ruling in the US that said an individual could not be forced to hand over their encryption key to encrypted data on a computer, since it violates the 5th amendment against self-incrimination. Over in the UK, they apparently also have protections against self-incrimination, but apparently it doesn't cover handing over your encryption key (thanks to JJ for sending over the link). Basically, the ruling is pretty close to the opposite of the US ruling. Basically, it found that an encryption key isn't speech but an independent "thing" that can be required to be turned over to authorities.
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Filed Under: encryption, free speech, self-incrimination, uk, us


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  1. identicon
    Joseph Young, 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:11am

    Flawed logic all around

    To all those who have commented that you simply say, “I’ve forgotten it”, it doesn’t work like that. You’ve failed to hand over the encryption key or plaintext equivalent of the encrypted material. That’s prima facie evidence that you have committed a crime. It is a defence to claim that you’ve forgotten the key. But, you must convince the judge and jury that you have forgotten the key. The prosecution doesn’t have to prove you have not forgotten it.

    The Appeal Court judgement is like the plot from a bad spy movie. The baddie, upon capturing our hero, demands the secret codeword necessary for world domination. A codeword written down nowhere and known only to our hero. The baddie then tells our hero that, if he doesn’t divulged the codeword, he’ll kill him, thus guaranteeing the failure of his world-domination plans by his own hand.

    As killing the defendant isn’t an option, as that would just show that the encryption key is very much dependant on the defendant’s existence, I’m surprised that the Appeal Court didn’t suggest torture. This seems like the perfect use for torture. The problem with the Guantanamo style of torture is that the defendants will say anything, truth or falsehood, to make the torture stop, and you have no way of verifying the truthfulness of what’s been said. As the state already has the ciphertext, if your tortured defendant lies about the encryption algorithm or key, the state will know and can carry on the torture. If the defendant truly doesn’t know the key, the torturing will eventually kill them. Once they are dead, you will know they were innocent.

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