Is there any law currently in place within the UK that can force someone to decrypt information? Either by forcing them to supply the password/key or forcing them to provide the information in an unencrypted format.

For example I am communicating with a friend over What's app using end-to-end encryption. Can the police or a court force me to allow them access to the data.

1 Answer 1


There is RIPA which allows a court to force you to divulge a decryption key.

The penalty for not doing so is up to two years in prison, five if terrorism is involved.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), Part III, activated by ministerial order in October 2007,[20] requires persons to supply decrypted information and/or keys to government representatives with a court order. Failure to disclose carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail

- Wikipedia - Key Disclosure Law

Section 49 of Part III of RIPA compels a person, when served with a notice, to either hand over an encryption key or render the requested material intelligible by authorities.

Anyone who refuses to decrypt material could face five years in jail if the investigation relates to terrorism or national security, or up to two years in jail in other cases.

Controversially, someone who receives a Section 49 notice can be prevented from telling anyone apart from their lawyer that they have received such a notice.

- The Register - UK police can now force you to reveal decryption keys - Refuseniks face jail time

The act can be read on the government website

It describes, for example, grounds for not complying ...

3) For the purposes of this section a person shall be taken to have shown that he was not in possession of a key to protected information at a particular time if—

(a) sufficient evidence of that fact is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it; and

(b) the contrary is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Is there a need for the officials or court to prove that something actually is encrypted? Otherwise the person accused can just say "nope, sorry this is just an unused disk with random noise on it". If it actually is not encrypted of course no one can provide a decryption key and how can they then defend themselves?. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:54
  • 1
    @mathreadler: My understanding is that the prosecution must demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that there exist decryption keys known to the defendant. in 2014/2015 there were 22 refusals to comply and 3 convictions. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:06

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