Monday, November 8, 2010

You've probably never heard of Oliver Drage

I hadn't until I checked the "Conspicuous Chatter" blog and saw the latest entry about enforcement of Britians Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act 2000(RIPA).

Mr. Drage has been convicted of not giving his encryption key to investigators when they requested it, which is a violation of RIPA. He's been convicted of that crime and sentenced to 16 weeks in jail. Conspicuous Chatter is very clearly on the side of Mr. Drage and not happy with the way the BBC reports the story so I checked out what the BBC said.

The BBC reports that Oliver Drage was arrested by police investigating "Child Sexual Exploitation." Apparently they had enough evidence to arrest him and confiscate his computer, but not enough to charge him. His 50 character encryption key had them stumped, so they asked him for it. He refused. They charged him with violating RIPA and convicted him. The police reaction to the conviction and 16 week sentence:

Det Sgt Neil Fowler, of Lancashire police, said: "Drage was previously of good character so the immediate custodial sentence handed down by the judge in this case shows just how seriously the courts take this kind of offence.

I don't know British law, but I have to assume that 16 weeks is the stiffest sentence allowed for failing to surrender your password. Otherwise I can't imagine a judge not giving a longer sentence when the purpose is to get a man accused of sexually abusing children to give up the encryption key to his computer.

I don't know if he is guilty, and it's important to remember that although it looks incriminating, he could have perfectly legitimate reasons for not giving police the key. It could be principle. He could have some other type of incriminating evidence on his computer but be innocent of child sexual exploitation. It could be some other reason.

This is a question that is still being decided in the U.S. Is your encryption key protected by the Fifth Amendment? Should it be? I think the answer to both questions is yes. But cases like this one raise questions, I admit.

What do you think?