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Animal rights activists are thought to be the first Britons to be asked to hand over to the police keys to data encrypted on their computers.
The request for the keys is being made under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
Police analysing machines seized during raids on activists' homes carried out in May have asked for the keys.
The activists could face jail if they do not comply and snub a further formal request to hand over the keys.