UK Home Secretary Jack Straw could be in serious trouble if his eCommerce legislation proposals aren't amended before they go before Parliament.

Campaigning group stand.org.uk sent Straw an email last week, at the bottom of which was some encrypted text. With the right key, this decrypted as a confession of a crime.

Stand.org.uk informed the Metropolitan Police that Mr Straw was in possession of the confession, but because the words had been scrambled, Mr Straw was of course unable to read the words himself. However, the key was created in Mr Straw's name and registered on international public key servers so the police could demand that Straw supplies them with the key.

Here's the punchline: failure to do so could land him in jail for two years under the terms of the Electronic Communications Bill. As stand.org.uk's letter to the Home Secretary continued,
The fact that you don't possess this key won't help you unless you can prove that you don't have it. I wish you well in proving that it isn't hidden away on a disk in your secretary's home, or squirreled away on the Internet somewhere. We might have sent it to you last week; but according to the Bill, the police won't have to prove you ever had it at all.

Even if you can prove that you don't have it you would STILL be liable for imprisonment unless you give information to the police that enables them to decrypt the key. Unfortunately for you this is impossible, because we've destroyed all copies of the key in our possession.

If the police ask you keep the demand to hand over the key secret, telling anyone would render you liable to five years in jail.

So you couldn't complain - or explain your predicament - to the PM or Home Secretary, to the Chief Whip or a journalist, or even to another policeman.

Fortunately for Straw, this scenario is only theoretical, as the Bill is not yet law. And I'd imagine parliament will now be encouraged to amend the legislation - yet again. After all, 'guilty until proven innocent' has a distinctly uncomfortable ring to it. The government listened over the key escrow issue, so the necessary amendments will probably be made this time as well.