Press Release

25 October 1999


JUSTICE, the legal human rights organisation, and the Foundation for Information Policy Research today (Monday, 25 October) warn that those aspects of the Government’s draft Electronic Communications Bill which deal with police powers to unscramble encoded e-mail are likely to breach human rights standards under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Bill -- intended to encourage electronic commerce and on-line delivery of government services -- allows the police to serve written notice to demand either that a communication be decrypted or the private encryption key be handed.

According to our Human Rights Audit of the draft Bill, which is based on an Opinion obtained from two leading lawyers, the Government has wrongly opted for the widest police powers enabling open-ended interception of encrypted material. The Opinion says that this "will have the inevitable consequence of compromising the affected individual’s whole security and privacy apparatus" and thereby likely contravene Article 8 of the European Convention, on respect for private life.

In a detailed audit of Part III of the Bill, the Opinion identifies several other potential human rights breaches:

Peter Noorlander, Legal Policy Officer at JUSTICE, said:

"There are other, less intrusive ways of giving police access to encrypted material when a crime is suspected. To ensure compliance with human rights standards, the Government must re-think this part of the Bill."

Caspar Bowden, Director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said:

"The government is attempting to bolt decryption powers for the internet onto existing interception laws. This legal analysis demonstrates definitively why this approach is unsound and is incompatible with basic human rights."

Note to Editors:

  1. The Opinion is written by Professor Jack Beatson QC (formerly a Law Commissioner) and Tim Eicke, barrister, from Essex Court Chambers. A full copy of the Opinion is available on the internet, at, or from the JUSTICE office.
  2. The draft Electronic Communications Bill is included in a DTI consultation document, Promoting Electronic Commerce. It is expected to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.
  3. JUSTICE is conducting human rights audits of current legislation. Completed audits include the Immigration and Asylum Bill, Access to Justice Bill, Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, Draft Freedom of Information Bill and consultation papers on Anti-terrorism and the Mental Health Review. In 1998, it published a major report on covert policing, ‘Under Surveillance: Covert Policing and Human Rights Standards’.
  4. The Foundation for Information Policy Research is the UK’s leading Internet policy think-tank, an independent non-profit organisation that studies the interaction between information technology and society from a broad perspective. FIPR monitors technical developments with significant social impact, commissions research into public policy alternatives, and promotes public understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in the UK and Europe.

Further Information

For further information, contact Lib Peck, JUSTICE, on 0171 762 6419, or Nicholas Bohm (FIPR legal officer) on 1279 871272.


Go to FIPR front page.

Go to FIPR E-Comm99 Draft Bill Review page.

Go to FIPR Electronic Commerce Policy Information Centre.

Go to FIPR Interception of Communications Information Centre.

Go to FIPR Regulations of Investigatory Powers Information Centre.

Document created in HTML on October 24, 1999.