PM Tony Blair Promises No Government Mandated Key Escrow

(September 13, 1999) British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech on the information economy and Internet policy on Monday, September 13, 1999. He encouraged the British to embrace the Internet, advocated industry self-regulation, outlined government efforts to promote computer literacy, and promised that the government would not mandate key escrow.

See, Speech by Tony Blair, 9/13/99.

Prime Minister Blair spoke in Cambridge, England, the site of a major research university north of London, and the center of Britain's Silicon Fen. He told his audience to "embrace the Internet now."

"So, to individuals I say get skilled: your future depends on it. To British business; a blunt message: if you donít see the Internet as an opportunity, it will be a threat."

However, Prime Minister Blair also announced several government policies to promote the development of the Internet economy in Britain and attract companies to Britain's Silicon Fen.

"no company or individual will be forced, directly or indirectly, to escrow keys"

Right Hon. Tony Blair

Blair had this to say about key escrow. "Many of you will be aware of the issue of mandatory key escrow - the previous cross-party policy to coerce people to give the password to their Internet mail to a third party. Well, one of the PIUís main conclusions is that those plans were not going to work. So let me say clearly today Ė no company or individual will be forced, directly or indirectly, to escrow keys."

The press office of the British Embassy in Washington confirmed to Tech Law Journal that Prime Minister Blair meant that there will be no government mandated escrow of encryption keys.

The encryption policy of the British government now contrasts sharply with that of the Clinton/Gore administration. Administration officials from the FBI, Department of Justice, National Security Agency, and other agencies vigorously oppose legislative proposals that would guarantee American's the right to use any encryption products, and prohibit government mandated or induced key escrow.

Rep. Bob

HR 850, the Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), has passed committee, and may be taken up by the full House later this month or next. Clinton, however, has not yet stated whether he would veto the bill.

PM Blair also stated that the government would minimize regulation. "So there is a clear role for public policy. Not the old role of state subsidy, intervention or planning. But a new role: promoting competition, minimising regulation and equipping people with the skills they need."

Tony Blair also addressed an issue that is sometimes referred to in the United States as the "digital divide." He said that "We cannot tolerate the creation of an information underclass. It would be both unfair and inefficient."

"I have pledged that by 2002, all schools will be connected." Blair continued, "we will subsidise over 100,000 of our poorest families to get computers, so they can access the Internet at home too."

"But adults also need training. Thatís why we announced a £450m computer skills strategy in the Budget. Through Individual Learning Accounts, we will provide 80% discounts, available to everyone, for basic computer training.

"We are setting up 800 IT learning centres to give access to IT to those who would otherwise be excluded."

"And where companies provide computers to their employees, we will now give a tax break to the employee. So neither the employer nor the employee pays tax."

See, the Performance and Innovation Unit's E-COMMERCE REPORT (1,282 KB PDF)

The Right Honorable Mr. Blair also praised and endorsed a report just released by the Performance and Innovation Unit, a government funded and staffed think tank established to research information economy issues.

"Weíve made a good start in e-commerce. Now we must transform it into a permanent industrial success," said the Prime Minister. "Thatís my message today. Silicon Fen can rival Silicon Valley. British entrepreneurs can lead the world in exploiting e-commerce."

"Thatís my message today.
Silicon Fen can rival Silicon Valley."


For more information on the Blair government, see Ten Downing Street.