Tony Blair said in a private meeting this morning that the government will back down over its controversial plans to regulate the use of encryption - if the industry can come up with a better solution within three weeks.
The meeting, between cabinet members and leading IT companies and held at number 10, comes a day before the government will confirm its encryption and ecommerce policy in a DTI consultation document, to be published at 12.30 pm.
It follows months of criticism from IT companies, banks and the Post Office, of the current policy - know as 'key escrow'.
Industry commentators viewed the news as optimistic, but remained cautious until the DTI confirms the plans tomorrow. Casapar Bowden, director of think tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (who wasn't at the meeting), said: "It looks Blair was saying key escrow isn't the answer. But it's too early to say its a u-turn."
Key escrow is a complex mechanism designed to allow the police to tap into strong encryption - necessary for ecommerce - in real time. It forces users to deposit copies of private encryption keys with a 'trusted third party', which makes them available to the police on demand.
Objections to key escrow centre on the fact the technique is untested, costly and is will not be widely accepted internationally, which could lead to ecommerce business migrating abroad.
The DTI will now lead an industry government task force, which will run for three weeks, to intensively examine possible technical alternatives to its encryption proposals.
Blair is reported to have said it was not good enough for industry to oppose the plans. It had to propose alternatives.
Companies present included BT, ICL, GEC, Microsoft, HP and the Post Office. Number 10 and the DTI declined to comment on what they called a "private meeting."
For more stories see 11 March issue of Computing
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