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Encryption Security United Kingdom

UK Computing Student Jailed After Failing To Hand Over Crypto Keys 353

stephendavion sends news that Christopher Wilson, a 22-year-old computer science student, has been sent to jail for six months for refusing to hand over his computer encryption passwords. Wilson has been accused of "phoning in a fake warning of an impending cyber attack against Northumbria Police that was convincing enough for the force to temporarily suspend its site as a precaution once a small attack started." He's also accused of trolling on Facebook. Wilson only came to the attention of police in October 2012 after he allegedly emailed warnings about an online threat against one of the staff at Newcastle University. ... The threatening emails came from computer servers linked to Wilson. Police obtained a warrant on this basis and raided his home in Washington, where they seized various items of computer equipment. ... Investigators wanted to examine his encrypted computer but the passwords supplied by Wilson turned out to be incorrect. None of the 50 passwords he provided worked. Frustration with his lack of co-operation prompted police to obtained a order from a judge compelling him to turn over the correct passphrase last year. A judge ordered him to turn over these passwords on the grounds of national security but Wilson still failed to comply, earning him six months behind bars.
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UK Computing Student Jailed After Failing To Hand Over Crypto Keys

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:29PM (#47418183)

    Everything about this is a fiasco.

  • by GuyverDH ( 232921 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:35PM (#47418251)

    Data stored digitally on your computer is the equivalent of your own memory.

    Encrypting it keeps others out of it.

    5th amendment protects against self-incrimination, period.

    This trumped up charge needs to be dropped.
    The judge needs to be de-benched and sent to prison for being a constitutional terrorist.
    The prisoner should sue the City, the district attorney's office and the judge for everything they have for wrongful imprisonment, falsifying charges, and basic ass-hattery.

  • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:42PM (#47418339)
    Real question...what happens if somebody legitimately forgets their password? If they're paranoid (or realistic) enough to use AES to begin with, they're likely going to have a good strong password. That's a lot of entropy for a human to remember for a number of years, especially if they don't decrypt it very often.
  • by FuzzNugget ( 2840687 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:42PM (#47418367)
    That is the issue on which this case hinges: there is no absolute guarantee against self-incrimination in the UK. You *can* be compelled to reveal your secret encryption keys that exist only in your mind.

    Seems the founders of computing as we know it have lost their way.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:54PM (#47418525) Homepage Journal

    That's why you need two factor authentication. A password and a keyfile stored on floppy disk. Ideally an old floppy disk with multiple read errors. If you are arrested you can say that the police must have damaged the disk.

    Alternatively TrueCrypt's plausible deniability works well.

  • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:55PM (#47418547) Homepage

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

    Leaving aside that this is UK news and the UK doesn't have the 5th Amendment, protection from being forced to testify against yourself is not based on this ideology you assume it is where your memory would be protected. You misunderstand the entire reason for the right. The reason for the right is because of the long history of forced confessions. History teaches that when the police interrogate them long enough and hard enough they can get them to "confess" to almost anything; even heinous crimes carrying the death penalty. This can be achieved without traditional torture, with just hard questioning and lack of sleep. Because of the physical power the police hold over a person who has been arrested, this is a pervasive problem in places without these protections, including historical England.

    But the 5th Amendment doesn't protect physical facts, and it doesn't protect your memory; it protects you from testifying about your memory. If your memory could be read by doctors using a harmless mind-reading machine, that would be allowed, because it would be physical evidence, not testimony that might have been compelled.

    Another problem with compelled testimony is where they attempt to accuse a person of lying in their claim of innocence, even before it is established that they are guilty. Prosecutors are very good at that; finding some innocent detail you remember wrong, or perceived differently than witnesses, and then using that to "prove" you're lying. And your denial contains lies, that is almost the same as a confession in the hands of a skilled prosecutor.

    Another example of what can be compelled is the location of a key to safe, or the combination to a safe; assuming the police have a warrant, no physical evidence is protected by the 5th Amendment, including things like the location of a key. The safe is physical evidence, not testimony. And the location of the key is an objective physical fact that is not prone to the type of abuse that a compelled confession is.

    And you would send a judge to freakin' prison over your lack of understanding of the very rights you claim to value, yet somehow know nothing about. You even then somehow manage to work in a false accusation of terrorism. There is nothing basic about your ass-hattery; you're a first class champion ass-hat!

  • by LVSlushdat ( 854194 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:00PM (#47418603)

    As bad as the US is getting, I sure AM glad I don't live in the UK with THIS crap going on...

  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:01PM (#47418615) Homepage []

    Brings new meaning to "brute force" hacking. Or is that whacking?

  • by Squiddie ( 1942230 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:09PM (#47418709)
    But they would be equivalent to paper files written in a code only you know how to decipher. It isn't your responsibility to interpret your own files for the police.
  • by Maltheus ( 248271 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:18PM (#47418807)

    Yeah, I always wanted to do a UK trip, but their crazy laws have always kept me away. Not even because I'm worried that I'll get caught up in them, so much as I look down on them as a people for institutiting them in the first place.

    And no, the irony isn't lost on me that many do not want to visit America for the same reasons. I probably wouldn't either, if I weren't a native.

  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:20PM (#47418845)

    [boot up in single user mode so syslog and ntpd are not running]
    # date 0417212012
    # su - victim
    [pigs copy incriminating files at will using cp without -p]
    [could change the date numerous times for different files]

    Yeah, that's REAL hard. They just planted files with an mtime, ctime, and atime of 2012.

    How can timestamps be "out of sync with the rest of the system"? Every file in the system has different timestamps as it is.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:52PM (#47419157) Homepage Journal

    The problem with demanding the key and jailing him for not doing so is that they haven't (as far as I know) proven he actually remembers the key at all. Have they done anything to prove that he didn't genuinely believe the passwords he told them would decrypt the data? People do forget things all the time, even very important things. Throw in some duress and mental anguish over being jailed plus autism and it's a wonder if he gets his middle name right.

    The fundamental problem with any penalty for not testifying is that it hinges on punishing someone for a crime you can never actually prove them guilty of. That might actually be good reason to punish a judge, or at least remove them from the bench. Not being punished unless proven guilty is a fundamental right that goes well beyong the Constitution or any particular foundational document.

  • by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:03PM (#47419279)

    To be fair, in the US they'd have just charged you with a bunch of more serious crimes as well, which they'd offer to drop if you plead guilty for the one they wanted you for.

  • by sabri ( 584428 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:03PM (#47419285)
  • by Vainglorious Coward ( 267452 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:37PM (#47419587) Journal
    "Tyrant judge"?! He was applying the law. A bad law in the opinion of many people, sure, but nonetheless crystal clear in its scope and effect. Are you saying the judge should have not applied the law? That he should have ignored the statute and made up his own rules? You're in favor of "activist judges"?
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:57PM (#47419791)

    If your memory could be read by doctors using a harmless mind-reading machine, that would be allowed, because it would be physical evidence, not testimony that might have been compelled.

    Typical lawyer doublespeak bullshit.

    same asshattery that gives

  • by Black Dragon ( 14728 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:46PM (#47421399) Homepage

    You do know the US has "Stop and Identify []" laws which require you to talk to police? For example, in Texas :

    "A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information."

    It's a class C misdemeanor.

    These laws have been challenged [], and SCOTUS ruled that they don't violate miranda rights.

    Yes, and..? The United States hasn't been a free country for a long long time now.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.