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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Criticism of net snooping bill grows
The RIP bill will get a rough ride in the House of Lords
By BBC News Online internet reporter
Mark Ward

UK Government plans to give police the power to watch what you do on the web are facing an increasing chorus of criticism.

Business groups and politicians are queuing up to criticise the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill that extends police snooping powers into cyberspace.

The government claims that the Bill gives the police no new powers and places greater restrictions on their ability to spy on net surfers.

We're not going to accept a pig in a poke like this

Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat peer

But civil liberty groups, politicians and trade bodies say the Bill harms privacy and places a costly burden on business.

The RIP Bill reaches a key stage in the House of Lords on Monday and peers are planning to scrutinise it closely.

"I think the government is going to have a pretty rough ride on this Bill," said Lord McNally, a Liberal Democrat front bench peer.

All change

Lord Cope, conservative front bench spokesman on Home Office matters, said: "The lobbying against it is building up considerably."

So far 229 amendments have been proposed to the RIP Bill and it faces being substantially changed or thrown back to the House of Commons.

During the last House of Lords debate on the Bill in late May, Lord Lucas said peers should not be afraid to destroy the Bill if it cannot be made acceptable.

"We will help the government get a good Bill on the statute book but we're not going to accept a pig in a poke like this," said Lord McNally.

Peers are critical of the RIP Bill on several grounds.

They question the cost the government has put on installing links between internet service providers and a specially-created MI5 watching station.

The government estimates that it will cost around 25 million to give MI5 the ability to watch what people are browsing.

But politicians are sceptical about the price tag and feasibility of installing the black boxes.

"I do not get the impression that government know how this can be done or what it will cost," said Lord Cope.

E-commerce cost

Peers are also worried about the effect that the Bill will have on e-commerce.

They suspect that police could compromise business confidentiality by demanding access to encrypted information, which could still the growth of the electronic economy.

Now business organisations such as the Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB) are adding to the criticism. The AEB is an umbrella organisation representing the CBI, the Federation of the Electronics Industry, the e-Centre UK and technology trade body, the Computing and Software Services Association (CSSA).

On Monday, the AEB published a paper sharply critical of the Bill and says it conflicts with government aims to make the UK a haven for e-commerce.

The AEB says the snooping powers in the Bill give the government "unprecedented right of access to information on legitimate business activities".

Instead of businesses bearing the cost of interception, the AEB wants government to pay for the project.

It also wants assurances that businesses will be compensated if the information handed over is lost or stolen.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) voiced similar concerns about the Bill.

Professor Jim Norton, head of research at the IoD, said the Government is scoring an "own goal" for the UK e-commerce industry.

Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the world-wide web, also criticised the RIP Bill in an interview in the Observer newspaper.

In the interview, Mr Berners-Lee said the Bill gives "a government great power to abuse personal and commercial innovation."

Last week the British Chambers of Commerce wrote to Jack Straw outlining similar complaints about the Bill.

The City of London Corporation and banking organisations are also believed to have lobbied the government to change or drop the Bill.

"I don't think the government expected they would have this much trouble with the RIP Bill," said Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy research, which has led criticism of the Bill.

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05 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Snooping bill 'will harm business'
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Watching while you surf
07 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
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Surveillance bill under fire
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