A storm is brewing between civil liberties group Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties UK (CRCL) and the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) over a letter campaign to promote public awareness of privacy issues on the Internet.
The campaign was started by CRCL to get Internet users in the UK to send a letter to their ISPs (see PC Week, 10 November) outlining the user's concerns over the use of their personal data, and the situations in which ISPs might divulge that data to the police.
Under the present system, police forces across the country have no formal procedure for accessing the personal data of a suspected criminal that resides on an ISP's servers. In June, ISPA, along with members of the London InterNet eXchange (LINX) and representatives from BT, met representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and MI5 to discuss how to handle law enforcement access to this data.
This resulted in the formation of an ACPO/ISPA/ Government Forum which held seminars throughout October and released a set of "good practice guidelines" which, according to CRCL, were "apparently designed to enable ISPs to be released in certain circumstances from the restrictions on disclosure of personal data imposed by the UK Data Protection laws".
In a classic case of crossed wires, CRCL accused ISPA of advising its members to ignore copies of the letter from customers, and accused the Forum of holding its meetings in secrecy. CRCL recommended that the Forum open up its meetings and publish minutes of previous meetings.
ISPA denied it so advised its members, called the letter campaign a waste of time, and said it has no intention of being secretive. "We gave a public press conference and outlined our terms of reference and asked for comment," said a spokesman. "We are categorically not going to agree to any procedures outlined by the police that are not backed by the law."
The spokesman went on to explain that users should be lobbying government to clarify the data protection laws as they apply to Internet information.
He also conceded that there is not enough user involvement in the legal discussion, and that there might be a way for organisations such as CRCL to participate.
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