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19:19 on Tuesday
28 October 2003

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Big Brother is watching us! 

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (RIP) could be law by October. The bill affects "public telecommunication systems", including Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and users of their services. It appears to give the Home Office carte blanche to intercept almost all of our business or private communications. According to a new legal opinion commissioned by Justice, a civil liberties group, the bill significantly breaches the new Human Rights Act on several grounds! 

What does it actually mean to you and I as private or business Internet users? 

Companies holding data on a private virtual network across the public Internet, or having private communications between individuals sent across the Net, may be monitored without their knowledge to monitor deals "in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom".

So you encrypt communications to avoid eavesdropping, but the police could demand that you pass on keys to any of your encrypted data. Government claim this defends against criminal acts, preventing drug barons, child pornographers and terrorists from using encryption to avoid paying for their crimes. 

Ironically, this Bill guarantees that they will. Criminals who encrypt their data, and refuse to hand over the key, can only be punished to a maximum of two years. While you or I won't risk imprisonment because nobody believes we lost our passcode!  

Such measures could potentially damage the competitiveness of British e-business, and destroy confidence in the use of the Net for confidential business communications. 

A spokesperson from the Office of the e-Envoy, said: " We too are keen to ensure that the Bill does not have an adverse effect on the development of e-commerce in the UK and we are keeping in close touch with those in the Home Office who are engaged in the Bill. 

" I can assure you that we are not complacent about the issues involved, and we will be examining these further in conjunction with the Home Office and the DTI."  

March 2000




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