Business leaders have joined the growing chorus of criticism against the UK government's communications snooping bill as it enters a key stage in the House of Lords today.
The proposed Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill will require ISPs to provide facilities to allow police authorities to intercept and decrypt electronic communications, including email.
Jim Norton, the Institute of Director's head of ebusiness policy, said the measures in the RIP Bill are too broad and fail to match up the government's stated aims of bringing UK interception powers within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights. Norton said he supports this aim but has questioned the broad powers the Bill gives for officials to obtain encryption keys.
"Is it really the intention to provide Inland Revenue or VAT inspectors or DTI company investigators with these powers?" he said. "Even the car park attendant at the Home Office seems to have them under current drafting!"
Norton said the government is scoring an "own goal" for UK ecommerce industry with the Bill. He said far more "business-friendly" measures are in place in Ireland, continental Europe and the US. He is particularly concerned that measures in the Bill allow access to 'communications data' without a warrant.
"In principle, every click of the mouse, every web page visited or button clicked could be regarded as such data and collected with impunity," he said.
Norton argued that the operation of the Bill would place businesses in an "invidious" position.
"If an employee is served with an order to release highly sensitive encryption keys, they are likely also to be served with a 'gagging order' preventing them from informing others in the company that the integrity of their encryption systems has potentially been compromised," he said.
The Bill enters its committee stage in the House of Lords today. So far, 229 amendments have been tabled to the Bill in the Lords, and the government faces the prospect of seeing it substantially changed before it is sent back to the House of Commons.
Brian Gladman, technical advisor to the Foundation for Information Policy Research, which is leading opposition against the Bill, said that it would cost more to implement than government estimates of £34m. He argued that the money would be better invested training experts in forensic computing - the science of extracting data so that it can be presented as evidence in a court of law.
"I hope the Bill will be abandoned so that we can start again with something sensible," said Gladman.
"The reverse burden-of-proof measures need to be removed once and for all, along with government access to encryption keys."
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