Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have given conflicting interviews on whether more legislation on intercepting communications is needed to fight terrorism.
In a BBC radio interview Friday, Straw labelled critics of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act "naive".
Straw, Home Secretary in the previous government, claimed key elements of the Act had been watered down as it passed through Parliament because of pressures from civil liberties groups.
He said: "We needed the powers to de-encrypt commercially sensitive emails because we knew terrorists were going to use it... but the pressure was so great we had to back down a bit. I was told it was unnecessary and that it was the beginning of 'big brother' society."
A report in the Financial Times over the weekend quoted an unnamed senior minister as saying that concessions made during the passage of the RIP Bill may be looked at again.
However, in a TV interview Sunday, PM Tony Blair said the country had all the powers it needed to eavesdrop on communications.
Spokespeople at the Home Office and 10 Downing Street told vnunet.com Monday that a wide ranging review of legislation relating to terrorism was being conducted, but that the Prime Minister's remarks indicated that it was "unlikely" that the RIP Act would be included within this.
"We have sufficient powers," the Home Office spokeswoman said.
Campaigners have also been quick to rebut the Foreign Secretary's remarks.
They point out that opposition to the original Bill had come from the IT industry and business generally, as well as civil liberties groups.
Most opposition, they said, stemmed from the basis that the proposed powers would be completely ineffective, costly, and bad for the development of ecommerce in the UK.
Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said: "Four methods have been suggested for dealing with criminal use of encryption. Three are fatally flawed, but more importantly, they try to solve the wrong problem."
"Computer scientists and security specialists understand the seriousness of what is at stake, and have wrestled with these dilemmas for a decade with no breakthrough."
The issue has already become a hot potato in the US since the 11 September attacks. Phil Zimmerman, creator of the Pretty Good Privacy encryption standard, has been forced to defend his position, while legislators considering tougher electronic surveillance laws have been warned against infringing constitutional rights .
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