Police forces are considering new legislation that could allow them to intercept and monitor Email and other on-line communications in order to fight crime on the Internet.
At a meeting in London last week, Albert Pacey, director general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), identified the Internet as "the policing challenge of the next millennium".
Pacey is pushing for increased regulation of the Internet, including the setting up of a new Internet crime group later this year, with powers to scan all electronic communication.
A spokesman for the NCIS explained: "We have a framework for telephone intercepts that are regulated by the interception of Communication Act, but a warrant from the Home Secretary is required before it can be used.
What we're saying is that this framework may not be appropriate for electronic communications."
But the prospect of new legislation has drawn criticism from the Internet community. James Gardiner, a spokesman for ISP Demon, said: "The Internet community has already shown that it can work together (to resolve these issues without legislation). Look at The Internet Watch. Working co-operatively in a pragmatic fashion is the way forward. I think legislation could be a step in the wrong direction."
Gardiner is right. To start legislating the Internet is unnecessary and over-zealous. Last year, when the police jumped in and requested that newsgroups be taken off the net there was outcry, inevitably delaying advancement. The community has shown itself to be responsible, and most newsgroups containing illegal or indecent material has removed it voluntarily.
Legislation and scanning will make people nervous about using the Internet, slowing its growth and threatening its future.
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