Opposition to the UK Government's so-called snooping bill is growing among members of the House of Lords.
At a meeting with IT industry representatives in London, peers from across the House said that mounting criticism of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill was such that it could be radically altered, or perhaps even defeated, when the Lords vote later this summer.
The proposed bill will require ISPs to enable police authorities to intercept and decrypt electronic communications, including email. The Bill is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords - the last point in its journey through Parliament where it can be amended.
In a two-hour exchange of views, members of the House of Lords told industry representatives they should stop complaining about the Bill in its current form and start suggesting workable alternatives to the areas of the legislation it objects to.
Armed with a viable alternative that has support outside of the House, Lords Cope, Phillips and Lucas said there was the potential to gain cross-party support and make significant amendments to the "worst" areas of the Bill.
Conservative peer Lord Cope, who is leading the opposition to the Bill in the Lords, said there was still time to build a coalition capable of defeating it. However, other Lords said an outright defeat looks unlikely at this stage.
But even the Government has begun to acknowledge that there are problems with parts of the proposed legislation.
Redefining the definition of communications
On Monday night, Labour peer Lord Bassam conceded that the Bill's definition of communications data needed to be redefined. "It is becoming clear that the current definition is not adequate and is raising several concerns because it could be interpreted far more widely than the Government intends," he said.
Lord Cope said the Government had told him that it hoped to come up with a new definition for communications data soon.
Representatives from the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) - the body spearheading industry opposition to the Bill - and the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) were asked by Lords to make several suggestions on exactly how the Bill could be altered.
Primarily, these suggestions concerned how communications data is defined, how costs of implementing legislation between government and industry could be split, how an advisory board could be set up to oversee the proposed legislation once it became law, and to establish a code of practice on encryption.
How the Bill affects the industry
Industry criticisms of the legislation have focused on the costs of the technology to enforce the Bill, the effects it will have on ecommerce generally, breaches of human rights, and the burden which encryption regulations will put on business executives.
A recent report commissioned by the BCC said implementing the Bill could cost UK business a staggering £46bn over five years, with ISPs alone facing costs of £640m. The Government puts the costs at around £20m a year for ISPs, but only takes into account installation and running costs.
Caspar Bowden, director of the FIPR, said: "If the Bill goes through, it will be a running sore on ecommerce in this country until it is amended.
"It also fails on at least three counts of complying with human rights legislation which is scheduled to become law this October."
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