Cryptography and jailtime in SA

South Africans can face significant fines or imprisonment if they refuse a judge their password after being ordered to provide it

By - August 17, 2012
Go To Jail Monopoly

Withholding a password, or other secret key needed to decrypt data, after being instructed to provide it by a South African judge could result in severe penalties, Lance Michalson, an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) lawyer at Michalsons Attorneys, recently told MyBroadband.

The topic of key disclosure received some publicity recently when Pirate Party founder, Rick Falkvinge, wrote about it in his blog earlier this year.

According to Falkvinge, under UK law, a person can be sent to jail for refusing to give up encryption keys, regardless of whether you have them or not.

Falkvinge goes on to paint a dire picture of how a person can get five years in prison if it’s a terrorism or child porn investigation, and two years otherwise, just for having files the authorities think are encrypted.

South Africa has similar key disclosure laws, but according to Michalson, you must have or had possession of the decryption key before you’ll face a fine (up to R2m) or prison (for up to 10 years).

Lance Michalson

Lance Michalson

Michalson said that government has the dual-responsibility of promoting and facilitating the lawful use encryption by business and others, while making it as difficult as possible for criminals to exploit it for their own purposes.

“Investigations into criminal offences are often hampered by the discovery that material that might otherwise assist the investigation, or be used in evidence, has been encrypted,” Michalson wrote in an article on the firm’s website.

It is occasionally possible for law enforcement agencies to crack the encryption key, Michalson said, though this comes at considerable effort and expense.

This is also likely to become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, as technology develops, Michalson said.

Michalson explained that under RICA, one must apply to a judge for a “decryption direction”, in terms of which the holder of an encryption key is directed to disclose that key or provide decryption assistance in respect of encrypted information.

However, to get the direction in the first place, Michalson said that you have to produce sufficient evidence to the judge that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the decryption key holder is in possession of the encrypted information and the decryption key.

Law enforcement should (in theory) be able to identify the holder of the key if their details as a supplier of crypto software have been entered in the Department of Communications’ register of crypto suppliers. This is the link with the crypto registration provisions in the ECT Act, Michalson explained.

“In many instances, in practice, however, the supplier will not be able to provide the identity of the user of the crypto software,” Michalson said.

Strong encryption in SA: is it legal?

Hackers see unprotected data as fair game

Beware free public Wi-Fi: Kaspersky

BBM safe for now: Minister of Communications

Forum discussion

Shutterstock is the image partner of MyBroadband – more technology images

Join the conversation

Connect with Us

androidappletwitterfacebookgoogleplusfeednewsletter

Poll

Do you support tax rebates for broadband investment in South Africa?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

More News

Muthambi’s R1.6 million irregular spend on The New Age: report

Faith Muthambi

Communications minister Faith Muthambi spent R1.6 million on adverts in a single edition of The New Age, according to reports

Telkom will not fund R98-billion broadband project: report

Telkom's new brand

Telkom will not bear the burden for the R98-billion national broadband rollout project, the Sunday Times reported

Email is a problem, and Google is okay with that

Email

Despite the rise of social networks and messaging apps, email continues to be the dominant mode of written electronic communication

Adware or Malware – what is Lenovo pushing?

Keys

While some software such as virus scanners can be useful, Lenovo has discovered just how badly it can backfire when including insufficiently tested – or just plain malicious – software

X

Newsletter Subscription


Name
Email *
Enter the following to confirm your subscription *
Captcha image


Free MyBroadband Newsletter
Subscribe
X
bool(true)