back to article UK terror law reviewer calls for expanded police powers to imprison people who refuse to hand over passwords

The UK's Government Reviewer of Terrorism Laws is again advising the removal of legal safeguards around a controversial law that allows people to be jailed if they refuse police demands for forced decryption of their devices. In what appears to be a recurring theme, Jonathan Hall QC said police should be able to threaten …

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  1. scrubber

    Come Down From Your Ivory Tower

    "what I have picked up anecdotally from a number of different sources, is that the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed."

    Tell that to photographers who are routinely stopped, questioned ID'd under anti-terrorism laws.

    Whatever happened to "You have the right to remain silent"?

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Come Down From Your Ivory Tower

      Whatever happened to "You have the right to remain silent"?

      It got extended: "you have the right to remain silent and we have the right to interpret that silence as an admission of guilt".

    2. strum

      Re: Come Down From Your Ivory Tower

      Yes, that 'rare' comment screamed of naivity.

      Any power that is available will be used, often just as a fishing expedition, into the affairs of someone the police find annoying - a journo, lawyer, activist.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Yes, when you live in a police state.

        The problem is, the UK is supposed to be a civilized country, emphasis on "supposed".

        The bitter fact is that Bin Laden has won. We are doing far more damage to our own way of life than Bin Laden could ever have dreamed.

    3. Sanctimonious Prick
      Pirate

      Re: Come Down From Your Ivory Tower

      Apple and Google are big defenders of personal privacy, are they not? Shirley the next update can include the option of having a two password system? One password unlocks the phone, the other one wipes it.

      "Oh. Oops! So**y officer, wrong password."

      Won't wash, will it?

      Still, worth a shot until they change the laws again, right?

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

    And yet it's the only thing which is protecting us from a massive terrorist attack every day

    1. sed gawk Silver badge

      Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

      Yeah right - "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_Great_Britain"

      "Since 1970, there have been at least 3,395 terrorist-related deaths in the UK"

      https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/922717/reported-road-casualties-annual-report-2019.pdf

      •There was a total of 153,158 casualties of all severitiesin reported road traffic accidents in 2019. This is 5% lower than in 2018 and is the lowest level since 1979 when this statistical series with current definitions and detail began.

      IT's the cars you should be worried about, but keep on using "terry wists" as you ignore your rights being stolen. Give your head a wobble.

      1. ahnlak

        Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

        I *think* you may have missed the sarcasm in that original post.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

          Explicitly tag it if you mean sarcasm or risk befalling Poe's law

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

            >Explicitly tag it if you mean sarcasm

            what site are you on ?

            1. IGotOut Silver badge

              Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

              The one that gives you the ability to add a "Joke" or a "I'll get my coat" icon.

              1. ClockworkOwl
                FAIL

                Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

                Really?

                Should it include trigger warnings as well?

                Honestly, there's nothing subtle about the sarcasm in the OP, I'd have missed it otherwise...

                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

                  there's nothing subtle about the sarcasm in the OP

                  36 downvotes (at this point) says otherwise.

                  There are people who post here in favor of draconian laws. They're in the minority, but they're not unknown. It's not unreasonable to interpret the original post as sincere.

                  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                    Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

                    I think it is a badge of honour on el'reg to write a sarcastic post that only gets downvotes

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: or risk befalling Poe's law

            Which one? Do you mean Edgar Allen, or that character from Star Wars?

        2. sed gawk Silver badge

          Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

          Not very long ago someone I've known a long time, gently explained that ethnic cleansing was okay because some groups of people are just lesser. They were not sarcastic, I was perturbed, it's changed how I view them.

          I'm increasingly losing the ability to read for context amid the torrent of awful views expressed in reasonable terms.

          I shall take greater care on el-reg.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

            I'm the same with racism. Some races are just naturally superior.

            .

            .

            .

            .

            .

            The TT is the best, except for the late lamented 'group B' , Le Mans is great and F1 used to be good, NASCAR sucks

      2. Blazde Bronze badge

        Re: the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed.

        Under what logic does a count of successful terrorist attacks become a useful metric of thwarted terrorist attacks?

  3. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Protect?

    The biggest problem with minor powers that are "rarely used" have a tendency to get used more and more until they are being used for things they were never intended for, and this has happened time and again. There are reasons why Judges have to be involved at certain stages and those reasons are because of the number of times Police powers have been abused to obtain unsafe convictions. Isn't it funny that all these extra "rights" are being added into legislation here and there just when we are "not allowed" to protest about them? If they are the ONLY thing protecting us from a Terrorist attack, then perhaps we need to sack all of the CT Police and GCHQ?

    How far does this "Protection" have to go? Will the police be satisfied when they can lock up someone because of their tone of voice? These may be little steps, but when there are lots of them they soon add up to a Police State.

    1. Fr. Ted Crilly

      Re: Protect?

      Or going equiped with a loud shirt and walking on the cracks in the pavement...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Protect?

        Or "looking at me in a funny way" ...

        1. MrBanana Silver badge

          Re: Protect?

          "Walking around with an offensive wife."

          Known jailbird apparently.

        2. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

          Re: Protect?

          The current one - walking outside not on “essential” business.

          Taking into account that people seem to be ok with a requirement to disclose your medical history when going to pub “because it is Covid”, it would be hypocritical to not extend that requirement for actual criminals.

    2. Franco Silver badge

      Re: Protect?

      Or taking pictures of your own daughter eating ice cream (this happened TEN years ago under anti-terrorism laws)

      https://www.news.com.au/national/call-the-police-hes-photographing-his-daughter/news-story/5077fe084b20837f31b43993cf634f83

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Protect?

      If the only permissible use is under the prevention of terrorism then the plod will just try to make everyone they nick look like a terrorist.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Protect?

        During a stint with one company, the MD was charged under anti-terrorism legislation via a very tenuous link. Basically, "we don't understand your financials." Yes, he was shifting money around, but no, it wasn't to fund terror as any fool could see by his extravagant lifestyle. The cops also triple counted the money he had funnelled because they were too lazy to follow it correctly and just added up any amounts that had travelling through several bank accounts even though it was all originally from the same pot.

        They already abuse the legislation so all this will do is remove the threat of being caught out.

        And no, I'm not justifying the MD's actions, just pointing out that anti-terrorism laws are already used far too widely because it's easier than doing proper police work.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Protect?

          1st millennium, no anti-terrorism laws, loads of viking attacks

          2nd millennium, anti-terrorism laws introduced, fewer viking raids

          3rd millennium, use of strict anti-terrorism laws against Icelanders, no viking raids

        2. Boo Radley

          Re: Protect?

          My last job was with a doctor that fell afoul of the Internal Revenue Service in this same way. They counted every dollar movement as taxable income, and billed him 1.5 million dollars, when his total income that year was less than 400k. Rather than spend a fortune fighting them, he simply closed up shop and relocated to the Philippines, where he conveniently not only spoke the language, but he also owned a nice home. Screw you, IRS!

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: Protect?

        I believe the proper indictment in Police vernacular is "the Ways and Means Act <insert year>".

        Does whatever you need it to if you deliver it convincingly.

        Not to be confused with the Treasury usage of "Ways and Means" to refer to taxes and other charges.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Protect?

      There is also the danger that laws introduced for a specific purpose are then used against those that they are supposed to protect. When the 'Race Relations' act was passed in parliament in 1968, it was meant to make blatant discrimination illegal. Well about the first 30 prosecutions were brought against..............

      people of colour ! Unbelievable.

  4. osakajin Silver badge

    Is anyone still under the illusion we are living in a free country?

    1. Woodnag

      free country?

      Name me one country where police or other LE face accountability when powers are exceeded and/or abused.

      Name me one country where prosecution is not discretionary and therefore subect to abuse.

      1. sed gawk Silver badge

        Re: free country?

        I live here, I vote here, I don't care about the Law there.

        I don;t have anytime for "others are bad" argument, as we live here.

        I understand some of the words might be a bit long for you..

        1. nematoad Silver badge

          Re: free country?

          Think on this, if you can.

          First they came for the Jews

          and I did not speak out

          because I was not a Jew.

          Then they came for the Communists

          and I did not speak out

          because I was not a Communist.

          Then they came for the trade unionists

          and I did not speak out

          because I was not a trade unionist.

          Then they came for me

          and there was no one left

          to speak out for me.

          Martin Niemöller

  5. TimMaher Silver badge
    Holmes

    Clarify something for me.

    If I encrypt a message using a key known only to me & the recipient and that message is written on some vellum and posted to the recipient, can the roz get me sent to gaol for not telling them the key?

    If not, then they can’t do it with a memory stick either... m’lud.

    Anyone know?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Clarify something for me.

      Yes, and IIRC it doesn't even have to be "encrypted" you just have to reveal the meaning.

      So if you text "the eagle flies south in winter", you have to tell them what the secret meaning is.

      Heaven help you if you have a copy of Finnegans wake or Gravity's Rainbow and they demand you tell them what the real meaning is.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: Clarify something for me.

        If the police can convince the police that a random binary blob on your hard disk is encrypted material you can go to prison for failing to provide a password that lets them translate it into something interpretable.

        It's a shitty law, it was a shitty law in 2000 which is why we wrote to our MPs and to the Home Secretary to protest it, and it's the proposed changes now would merely make it even shittier.

        1. AlbertH
          Coat

          Re: Clarify something for me.

          They're going to have serious problems with the huge, encrypted, deliberately obsfuscated binary blobs that make up some "operating systems" - Windows for one, and iOS for another....

  6. TVC

    Surely Government departments like GCHQ can already read all our stuff without a password or don't they want to admit that?

    1. MrBanana Silver badge

      I'm sure they are unable to confirm or deny that speculation.

    2. mtp
      Black Helicopters

      Not just XKCD that is obligatory

      https://dilbert.com/strip/2013-09-06

    3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      The Answer is Extremely Simple ..... Buy In what You Find Missing and Need at Any Price

      Surely Government departments like GCHQ can already read all our stuff without a password or don't they want to admit that? ..... TVC

      If one accepts that they easily can and do, and have been doing for some considerable length of time with immunity and impunity guaranteed in that overloaded with rich information space, ...... and it is a very wise presumption to make for there are bound to be any number of such bodies availing themselves of such possible abilities and therefore probable facilities and engaging utilities in order to try and stay way out in front and ahead luxuriating in the benefits and comforts which accompany the acquisition and experimental and experiential use whenever not abuse and misuse of prime remote second and third party, proprietary private and secret pirated knowledge ....... one does have to wonder and ponder on how and why they have made such an almighty bollocks of a pig's ear of everything, as is evidenced by all of the news which realises world views and provides the bigger pictures that present the current myriad global states of Greater IntelAIgent Games Plays.

      It is impossible not to correctly conclude they are directly responsible and ultimately accountable for what is nothing less than a Mammoth Series of Colossal Epic Fails which can only be explained and excused by a valiant admission that there is an obvious lack of necessary contracted in-house intelligence to exercise.

      J'accuse.

  7. MrBanana Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Plausible deniability

    How do they know it is an encrypted anything? I generate files full of random data to test compression and indexing methods. Ain't no password on them, no siree plod.

    1. grizewald

      Re: Plausible deniability

      It hardly matters does it?

      If plod says "He won't surrender the password for this 'obviously' encrypted file, down you go for five years. After they let you out, plod will intercept you at the prison gates, arrest you and ask the same question again. Down you go for another five years."

      It pains me to see the UK descend increasingly rapidly into a police state.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: surrender the password

        All my passwords are actually brute-force password cracking algorithms. I just try to remember the right number of characters to help them along a bit faster.

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Plausible deniability

        > If plod says "He won't surrender the password for this 'obviously' encrypted file, down you go for five years. After they let you out, plod will intercept you at the prison gates, arrest you and ask the same question again. Down you go for another five years."

        Whatever you do, don't change your password to "No comment".

        1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Plausible deniability

          Whatever you do, don't change your password to "No comment".

          Many years ago, one of the crew wrote DAMIDFK as an aide memoir for a password. When asked what it meant, he replied:

          "Don't ask me, I don't fucking know".

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Plausible deniability

            >Whatever you do, don't change your password to "No comment".

            I thought you always set your password to "I'm a mason" ?

          2. Andrew 6

            Re: Plausible deniability

            How about using the phrase "I will not reveal my password under any circumstances"

            Just wait for it to get to court and ask for the charge to be dismissed as you had complied by telling them your password. Then she for emotional distress due to being pointlessly dragged through the courts despite having complied immediately.

      3. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Plausible deniability

        After they let you out, plod will intercept you at the prison gates, arrest you and ask the same question again. Down you go for another five years

        Probably more, because you were already condemned once for the same offence, and you're now a repeat offender.

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