US vs UK

A US court has ruled that authorities cannot force people to incriminate themselves by divulging their encryption passwords.

This is in marked contrast to the UK, where the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) makes it a crime to decline to hand over all your incriminating files if the police demand it. If the case doesn’t involve national security, you can be put in jail for two years. If it does, five years.

Of course, the authorities would only use that power if absolutely necessary to fight terrorism, right? Well, the first person to fall afoul of section III of RIPA was an animal rights protester. She claims she didn’t have any encrypted files.

Got any old encrypted e-mails for which you no longer have the key? The RIPA has no limit, they can demand keys for files years old. Lost or forgotten the key? Someone sent you something encrypted with the wrong key? Off to jail you go.

Great political U-turns #94

I was writing the other day about how politicians who are in opposition will speak out against something they agree with because they feel they have to, because it’s their job as the opposition; once they get into power, they’ll make a 180 degree turn and do the exact thing they denounced. Therefore the only way to predict a politician’s actual behavior is to examine his past voting record when in power, and completely ignore anything said when campaigning. Case in point:

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights. […]

The administration’s interest in all e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration’s track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.

—John Ashcroft, October 1997.