The House of Lords last night voted to allow ISPs to appeal to a technical advisory board if they felt the government was making unreasonable technical demands on them to enforce its so-called snooping bill.
An amendment to the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill to establish a technical advisory board which oversees the installation of government black box 'email interceptors' was passed by 155 votes to 130.
The board will be made up of a balanced number of representatives (up to six) from ISPs and their corporate clients, and representatives from law enforcement agencies and the security services. All will be appointed by the Secretary of State for the Home Office.
During a debate last night, Lord Cope, moving the amendment, said a technical advisory board would have two jobs: it would check the technical aspects and feasibility of orders to insert black boxes to ISP servers, and provide a right of appeal for ISPs against the procedures including in those orders.
He also warned that technological advances would mean that each notice is likely to be different.
"I believe that successive Secretaries of State will find themselves having to propose to Parliament further orders as time goes on," he said.
The effectiveness of the black boxes in intercepting internet communication has already been questioned by technical experts, who say criminals could easily circumvent them.
Liberal Democrat Lord McNally said the board would give the government industry expertise in ensuring that effective measures are introduced and would win industry confidence. He also described the Bill's pre-amendment state as creating a situation where "the government had almost a blank cheque for the technical impositions that they could place on service providers. It was a question of one side thinking up requirements and the other side having to pay for it and work out how to implement it".
Lord Cope said the Bill had scared not only the electronics industry, but also of the whole of the economy, including banks and others involved in international business, and that the technical advisory board would help restore confidence.
He argued that establishing such a board would also foster a greater understanding between those in the electronic communications industry, and police and other authorities.
Lord Bassam, speaking for the government, said that there is not united industry support for such a board, saying that companies such as BT, Vodafone, NTL and Cable & Wireless felt it unnecessary.
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