Analysis of the (draft) Electronic Communications Bill 1999

A summary of opinions from UKCrypto and elsewhere

"Given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow."
Eric Raymond (discussing the merits of Open Source software)

"It's rather like a lot of people in parallel figuring out flaws in a Bill about to be laid before Parliament :-)"
Charles Lindsey


The mailing list UKCrypto has been discussing the UK Government's latest proposals to legislate on Encryption and other ECommerce related issues. These pages summarise the issues that have been discussed on the mailing list and also provide an overview of other problems with the Bill that have been thrown up in discussions within FIPR and elsewhere. They are intended to act as a summary of relevant issues and as an aide memoire when preparing responses to the Government's consultation.

I have tried hard to attribute quotes correctly and to provide material in context. Anyone who feels that I have mispresented them should write to me and I will correct matters immediately.

"I think it would be wrong to start from this bill..."
David Swarbrick

Yes, I would second this. I suggested a number of piecemeal changes which I felt would improve the bill. However, I wouldn't like people to think that I would consider the bill acceptable if these changes were made! There have been quite a lot of problems discussed on the list and I can't remember all of them.
Pete Chown

I hope my efforts at jogging memories are useful to the community.

The Draft Electronic Communications Bill 1999

Part I concerns the setting up of an regulatory body for Cryptographic Services Suppliers. There has been little comment on this, but that does not mean that it is unimportant. Find the discussion here.

Part II is about Electronic Signatures and Electronic Writing. This has been savaged by the lawyers. See what they said here.

Part III is about access to encryption keys, tipping off offences and Tribunals. Most of the public discussion has centred on this aspect of the Draft Bill. You can see the issues raised here.

Part IV relates to some technical changes to the Telecommunications Act 1984. It has been met with a stunned silence. Find a quick explanation here.

If one wanted a quick overview of the whole Bill I would say that it was a complete waste of Parliamentary time. Part I will never be used because only self-regulation makes any sense. Part II is supposed to clarify the validity of Electronic Signatures and just manages to muddy the waters. The provisions for amending legislation have no requirements for anyone to do anything ever. Part III infringes Human Rights, reverses the usual Burden of Proof on offences and it all belongs in a revised version of the Interception of Communications Act anyway. Finally, Part IV is a straightforward change to Telco licensing that deserves to be in a Bill of its own on an accelerated timetable rather than being tied to the rest of this mess.

But, please feel free to make up your own mind.

Richard Clayton, 22nd September 1999

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