Letter to the Editor

June 30, 1999

We should be thankful that the UK government has at last abandoned key escrow.It is worrying that they ever took it seriously.

It is clear from the recent ‘Building trust in electronic commerce’consultative paper that they do not fully understand the technology or the waythe internet market needs to work. On presentation of a suitable warrant, userswill be required to provide their decryption key. The worrying part of this isthat the onus is on the key owner, who would therefore be at risk of beingprosecuted even if he genuinely has lost his key or forgotten the pass-phrase.

The whole idea is untenable. UK legislation is not required to build consumertrust in e-commerce, to do so now in such a young market may well stifle futuremarket growth.

There also seems to be little need for updating legislation to includedigital signatures, as manual signatures are often not required for off-linecontracts. Online contracts are already being signed without any difficulty.

The European Union is proposing that ISPs build data taps in their Netservicers. This will allow government agencies to monitor individual’s internetactivity as they can already with telephone calls. This proposal is reminiscentof the government’s scrambling to catch up when digital mobile phones were firstintroduced.

E-commerce is an international issue and will ultimately be legislated at aninternational level, not from a UK only perspective. The risk of the UKgovernment meddling is that we may well be put at a disadvantage in the rapiddevelopment of this new economy throughout the world.