Internet service providers (ISPs) are clamouring for a reversal of last week's refusal by the Home Office to have a consultation period for the Investigatory Powers Bill.
ISPs want to discuss the high potential cost of the proposals. The new Bill will be a meshing of part three of the Electronic Communications Bill, which dealt with law enforcement powers that give police access to encryptyed material, and the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA), updated to cover the Internet.
Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said last week that there will be "no further consultation period."
ISPs have reacted angrily to this refusal, as they believe that several issues remain unclear and that informal meetings are not enough to solve them.
Keith Mitchell, chairman of the UK Internet hub, the London Internet Exchange (Linx), said: "It's a significant cause for concern. The Investigatory Powers Bill is wrapping legislation up with a key piece of the Electronic Communications Bill, which was of most concern. When they got it so wrong the first time, there should be a further consultation period. There are major changes to the structure of the legislation that demand consultation."
Mitchell accused the government of "taking a kitchen sink approach," and "loading an unpopular part onto a big truck to barrel through the road block."
Mitchell said the consultation period over IOCA "was not complete." Part of inconclusive discussions, according to Mitchell, concern interception being made statutory and small ISPs not being able to cope.
"Secondary legislation would decide what is a reasonable level of interception but what is reasonable and who the external auditor might be was not resolved," he said.
Demon Internet, the ISP division of Thus (formerly part of Scottish Power), calculated that having the capability to intercept one in 500 lines would push up costs by 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
The Home Office has since asked for calculations based on a new intercept of one in 10,000, based on the figure in place for the Netherlands. However, according to ISPs, there is no guarantee this figure will be used.
Richard Clayton, Internet expert for Demon Internet, said, "What level of interception they had in mind is a key question and we couldn't get an answer."
He said he is "very disappointed" about the lack of consultation which could comprehensively address this issue.
Mitchell said: "Safeguards over interception in the Netherlands are much stronger. We need to discuss such issues otherwise the government will put off individuals and businesses from doing ecommerce in this country."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The Home Office has been betrayed as being closed to the concerns of industry, but we are encouraging people to come forward to discuss things like cost implications with the minister."
She said they can write or have a meeting and that "another consultation paper that could take months to put forward" is not necessarily "more fruitful than talking to them directly."
Mitchell responded: "This is not enough, especially as we have no indication of a next meeting."
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