Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 15:15 GMT
Police net powers switched
There are no details yet of the controversial area of law enforcement
The UK Government appears to have given in to pressure to amend controversial legislation about the internet and e-commerce.
The contentious proposal suggests powers to allow the police to monitor suspicious internet activity in the same way that they can tap phone calls. But it was said it would also force people to hand over the software key to encrypted data and convict them if they did not. This suggested reversal of the burden of proof has been heavily criticised.
"Would it be sensible to imprison someone for forgetting the PIN number to a bank card?" said Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research.
Civil rights experts said the new Bill appeared to be a get-out clause, allowing the government to drop the unpopular part of the Electronic Communications Bill without losing face.
"The e-Minister (Patricia Hewitt) must be congratulated for performing a skilful political amputation to save British e-commerce. The shortened Bill still threatens unnecessary regulation, but at least now can do much less harm," he said.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the new Bill was simply "a new vehicle" for achieving the same ends: "We have taken the Home Office elements out of the original Department of Trade and Industry Bill, and will use a different vehicle to take them through Parliament.
"As the E-C Bill has already gone through a public consultation period, there will be no need to consult on that section again. But we will incorporate the findings of the public consultation into the wording of the new Bill," she added.
With the removal of its investigative powers section, the Electronic Communications Bill is now largely uncontroversial.
The government's stated aim is to "develop the UK as the best environment worldwide in which to trade electronically".
It has pledged to take a lead in the promotion of e-commerce by setting an ambitious target that 90% of the routine goods the government buys will be purchased electronically by 2001.