Man jailed for withholding encryption key

by Michael Smith (Veshengro) Encryption

A 19-year-old British man has been sentenced to four month in prison after refusing to hand the encryption key to his PC over to police.

Oliver Drage was given a 16-week custodial sentence by Preston Crown Court this week after reusing to disclose the 50-character code required to decrypt the contents of his computer. Drage was initially arrested in May 2009 as part of a police investigation into child sex abuse.

Drage was prosecuted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Changes to the Act made three years ago allow courts to award prison sentences of up to two years to suspects who refuse to disclose computer password or encryption details during police investigations.

"Computer systems are constantly advancing and the legislation used here was specifically brought in to deal with those who are using the Internet to commit crime," said Lancashire police spokesperson Det Sgt Neil Fowler in a statement. "It sends a robust message out to those intent on trying to mask their online criminal activities that they will be taken before the courts with the ultimate sanction, as in this case, being a custodial sentence."

But no one has said as to whether this person was guilty of any crime that was initially being investigated. The crime he is supposed to have been committing now is not to allow police access to his private space on his computer.

That legislation, the RIPA act of 2000, seems here, once again, been used in conjunction with a different investigation than what it was actually been designed for, namely anti-terrorism ops.

The question I am asking here, has Mr Drage committed any offenses with regards to child sex abuse or not.

On the other hand, Mr Drage fell foul of the British law anyway under which it is, theoretically, and offense to posses and use encryption software as a civilian and deploy such.

You may not, in theory, under British laws, encrypt email or other material and you have to, regardless of the RIPA act which was used in this case, disclose the key and the program to any police officer wishing to get into your computer.

Did someone mention that this country is supposed to be a democratic one? In the same way the the United States, yes...

Privacy and the right to it has become but an illusion here and in a number of other countries, including the USA and Germany.

© 2010