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Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 23:38 GMT


E-lobbyists to @dopt an MP

@dopt an MP and get a certificate to prove it!

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
The Internet is being harnessed for a sophisticated lobbying campaign aimed at the UK Government's planned encryption laws.

Stefan Magdalinski on adopting an MP
The Website, launched on Friday, says it is campaigning for safe e-commerce legislation. It urges visitors to adopt an MP and educate their local parliamentarian on the dangers to civil liberties posed by the impending legislation.

"Mention encryption to your average MP and eyes will glaze and lower lips tremble," the home page says.

"They need help. They need @dopting by someone (YOU! YOU!) who can help them understand."

How to lobby your MP

Behind the humour and simple layout is some clever coding to guide users through lobbying methods that few would know how to tackle alone

Typing in your postcode reveals the MP for your constituency. There are links to his party's Website, his speeches in Parliament and his entry in the Register of Member's Interests.

Entering your e-mail address allows you to adopt your MP and print out a certificate or put it on your own Website. It puts you on a mailing list to await notification of the launch of the campaign.

Software can work for any issue

The organisers, who include the authors of the weekly Need To Know newsletter on UK Net happenings, say they have plans for mass Internet action against the legislation, but deny they will be spamming MPs with unsolicited bulk e-mail shots.

"We're not asking people to bombard their MP with multiple copies of the same thing," says Stefan Magdalinski.

"We're hoping to set up ways that people can contact their MPs on any issue. They'll be able to use our systems to get messages through to their MPs in a way which makes it easier than it has been.

"We want to make it a one- or two-click solution to be able to contact the people who should represent your interests and your rights online."

Opposition building to bill

A consultation paper on the Electronic Commerce Bill is expected in January. Stand says the signs are that the encryption proposals will add billions to the cost of doing business online and drive companies and jobs overseas.

It says the proposed law allowing police access to the keys for encrypted e-mail will not catch a single criminal as they would be the last people to lodge their keys with the planned Trusted Third Parties.

It fears that innocent individuals will be targeted with warrants being issued to give access to keys on the authority of only a police inspector.

The government says it wants the legislation to make the UK the most e-commerce-friendly environment on earth. It feels that encryption is at the heart of the solution to the fears of consumers and businesses about the safety of online transactions.

"Whether we are concerned with the integrity of information (ensuring its content has not been altered) or its confidentiality (keeping it secret), the appropriate use of cryptography can be of major benefit to all IT users," trade minister Barbara Roche said earlier this year.

The @dopt an MP campaign promises to be particularly effective with more members of parliament getting online.

Peter Hill writes in next week's issue of Parliament's house magazine that around a third of MPs are now on the Internet and can be reached by e-mail, with perhaps 30 having their own Websites.

"Not many of the public know that if you log on to the House of Commons site, there is an e-mail box alongside the name of every Internet-friendly MP," he says.

For the unwired MPs, Stand plans an e-mail-to-fax gateway to make it just as easy to fax to their machines as to send to electronic mailboxes.

Net empowers the people

Nothing quite this organised in terms of utilising the technology of the Net to democratise the political process and aid pressure groups has been attempted in the UK before.

Amnesty International has reported that e-mail has boosted its Urgent Action network. Supporters are able to put pressure on the authoriites more quickly and secure the earlier release of detainees through the speed that campaigns can be organised and that their protests over arrests can be conveyed on the Net.

The Campaign for Digital Democracy plans a beta test early next year for voting over the Internet and by telephone with the help of 20,000 members of New Zealand's electorate. In US gubernatorial elections in November, the wrestler Jesse Ventura was credited as being the first candidate to have won an election because of an effective Internet campaign, when he became governor of Minnesota.

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