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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 09:04 GMT
Net snooping laws 'too costly'
Laws allows net activity to be monitored
Ministers want access to data going back seven years
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By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online

Extensive snooping laws could put internet service providers out of business, an expert has warned.

Tim Snape, an influential member of the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), said the law would drive up costs.

He was speaking at ISPCON, a conference for the internet industry held in London this week.

Mr Snape, who runs a small internet service in West Dorset, believes laws requiring ISPs to keep traffic information on all their users for up to seven years will prove far too costly for many smaller firms.

Hidden costs

Potentially every school, every newsagent and every Pizza Hut will also have to keep data on customers for seven years

Tim Snape, ISPA member
The law, part of the government's controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and its Anti-Terrorism Act, is due to come in to force shortly.

It is intended to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to catch criminals and terrorists who use new technology.

However, Mr Snape believes the cost of implementing the law will put up ISPs costs by around 15%, driving smaller firms out of business.

"In order to comply, ISPs will need to employ personnel who can trawl through data. This person will have to be a technical expert and a legal expert and simply doesn't exist.

"Even if they did they will be very expensive," he said.

The government has made provision for ISPs to recover the costs of implementing the data retention laws but this will reveal hidden costs of its own, said Mr Snape.

"In order to recover costs, ISPs will need to first demonstrate they have incurred them which will require an audit and an accountant fee of 6,000," he said.

Privacy implications

Mr Snape estimates that the information the government requires from customers will amount to around 20 CDs of data per day.

One solution would be to hand this data straight over to law enforcement agencies, but while this would take a burden of responsibility off of ISPs, Mr Snape does not think this would not be a good idea.

"It looks attractive but it is very dangerous because of the civil liberties implications," he said.

"Potentially every school, every newsagent and every Pizza Hut will also have to keep data on customers for seven years and that would have dreadful implications for privacy."

All activity on the net, including e-mails received and sent, websites visited and downloaded information, could potentially be spied on.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
UK snooping laws in disarray
12 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Cybercrime treaty gets green light
24 Aug 01 | Business
E-mail snoopers 'risk legal action'
11 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Treaty 'could stifle online privacy'
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