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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I hasten to reassure the noble Baroness the Minister that I am not anti-vaccine myself, but she should note--and I will not trade scientific data with her--that with regard to the MMR vaccine 2,000 claims for compensation against pharmaceutical companies are coming. The evidence is being put together slowly but surely about the effect of the MMR vaccination. I also remind the noble Baroness that the United States Congress has been holding a series of hearings about the effect of MMR vaccination, which she may not be aware of either. Serious issues are involved, and I would not mention them lightly.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, slowly but not surely, there is only one piece of medical research. Without naming the doctor concerned, the Medical Research Council has said that those findings are insubstantial and not to be relied on. We will see what happens.

The time is nearly up. I wanted to spend some time trying to address the issue that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised. I want finally to say how pleased I am that I am responding to the noble Lord after yesterday's Statement and to put into the record the very graceful and gracious message we have received from Rosemary Fox, who will be known to many of your Lordships and who has led the campaign for so many families, the Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children. Her message reads:

I commend this to your Lordships' House and thank my noble friend for introducing the debate.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill

8.55 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 46.

The Earl of Northesk moved amendment No. 139B:

    Page 50, line 7, after ("believes") insert ("that the protected information cannot reasonably be obtained by him by means other than the giving of a notice under this section and if that person believes").

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 141A.

I confess that some of the steam has been taken out of my concerns as a result of our debate on Amendment No. 139A. Part of my motive was to seek the promotion of plain text ahead of key disclosure. However, a tangential issue remains, concerning the structure of the clause. I cannot help feeling that in the context of

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subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c) subparagraph (d) is incongruous. Hence my formulation of including it in the preface to subsection (2). I should be grateful for an explanation from the Minister as to why, in so far as it remains relevant, subsection (2) is structured in the way that it is. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The change in the amendment and the consequential change proposed by Amendment No. 141A are covered by government Amendment No. 141B, which we have already discussed. The amended subsection (d) reads:

    "it is not reasonably practicable for the person with the appropriate permission to obtain possession of the protected information in an intelligible form without the giving of a notice under this section".

I hope that that amendment reassures the noble Lord. It should; that is certainly our intention.

The Earl of Northesk: I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, from our previous debate, that I still have slight reservations about the phraseology in his amendment No. 139D, but he will write to me on that point in any event.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: There are a number of amendments in this group which belong to the Liberal Democrat Party. I do not know whether my noble friend would wish to comment on them before he sits down, or whether anyone else would wish to do so.

Lord Lucas: I would certainly wish to comment on them. I was waiting in the hope that someone might magically appear on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: So was I.

Lord Lucas: If we wait long enough we may have the presence of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I should be very interested to hear him, particularly on Amendments Nos. 157 and 158, where we enter the area of the non-disclosure of key signatures. Where one has used, as some programs will use, one's signature to encrypt something, one's signature is liable to be seized. If that is so, I am not clear how, under the Electronic Communications Bill, the authorisations and signatures that one has made using that signature are affected. Their security is no longer perfect and the possibility that they have been forged becomes real. I am concerned about the way in which the two Bills will work together--the ability to seize someone's signature and the uses to which it will now be put under the Electronic Communications Bill. I do not know how that will all hang together.

Amendments Nos. 157 and 158 address the issue in a slightly different way and add another level of protection. As the Bill is drafted, if one has used a password to hide one's signature one may be forced to reveal it. However, I believe that under Amendment No. 157 a person would be spared that requirement. I should not like to miss the noble Lord's comments on those amendments.

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9 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: I wait to see whether or not the noble Lord, Lord McNally, wants to promote his amendments in this group.

Lord McNally: Our amendments were tabled to close a loophole as far as concerns the use of electronic signatures. Because I entered the Chamber half-way through the debate I am not sure what the weakness in our amendments is supposed to be. The intention is to achieve recognition of the electronic signature and protection thereof. I say no more.

The Earl of Northesk: The Minister may want to respond to points made by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who spoke to the Liberal Democrat amendments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is rather difficult to respond to amendments that have not been spoken to. I am content to run through all the amendments in the group, if that is what the Committee desires. Very little reference has been made to the entirety of the grouping. Most of the points made relate to Amendments Nos. 157 and 158. If it assists the Committee, I shall respond only to those amendments which I believe the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others regard as the most important in the group.

We fully recognise the importance of maintaining the integrity and security of electronic signatures. In that sense we understand why these two amendments have found their way into the group. For the record, I stress the policy position. There is no law enforcement requirement relating to keys that are used solely for the purposes of electronic signature. We believe that there are misplaced worries about signature keys being obtained and then used to impersonate their owners. Clearly, that would not be in the interests of law enforcement, since possibly it would have the wider effect of undermining the validity of such devices and potential prosecutions. The whole point about electronic signatures is to ensure the integrity and authenticity of data.

As I understand it, it is possible for signature keys also to be used for the purposes of confidentiality; in other words, to protect or encrypt the content of data or messages. This is of interest to us. The ability of criminals to encrypt the content of their data is the precise threat that we address in Part III. We believe that where keys have been used for both purposes it is reasonable to have power to require their disclosure. The Committee recognises that in the first limb of Amendment No. 157. The question is whether the second limb--sub-paragraph (b)--and Amendment No. 158 add extra safeguards. Frankly, we do not believe that they do. The protection of electronic signature keys is already there. By virtue of Clause 46(6), if keys have not been used for any other purpose they cannot be required to be disclosed: the Bill prohibits such access. But we believe that if keys have been used for the purposes of confidentiality it is right that they may be required to be disclosed.

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In all this it is important to have in mind that we envisage that the times when keys themselves will be required to be disclosed will be limited. The choice of which key to disclose, if there is more than one which can decrypt the relevant information, is very much left to the recipient of the notice.

Amendment No. 158 seeks to address the possibility that keys which may once have been used for the purposes of confidentiality, but have not been so used for some time, may be required to be disclosed because of some recent malicious behaviour by a party who is not the keyholder. We are aware that such a scenario has been painted, but we believe that those fears are overstated. The fact remains that the Bill needs to cover keys which have been used for the purpose of confidentiality and signature. We believe that there are appropriate tests and restrictions that govern access to keys and that Clause 46(6) provides necessary, proper and adequate safeguards for signature keys.

Clearly, confidentiality and integrity are key factors--no pun intended. We understand the spirit in which these amendments and the others in the group are tabled. I trust that, following my comments on Amendments Nos. 157 and 158, the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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