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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Sweeping powers to monitor what we do on the internet"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 June, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Snooping bill 'will harm business'
RIP bill casts a long shadow
PCs are getting powers to snoop on your PC
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

UK Government plans to give police powers to watch what people do online will harm business, warn industry associations.

Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) wrote to Jack Straw expressing concerns about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill.

The legislation is designed to help the police track and trace online criminals.

But the BCC and other trade groups worry that the cost of complying with the legislation will impose an unfair burden on businesses.

They also fear that the Bill will compromise confidentiality and could jeopardise deals negotiated via the internet.

"There is a real danger that the competitive disadvantage caused by this measure will frustrate the government's ambition of making the UK the best place to trade electronically by 2002," wrote Chris Humphries, BCC director general in the letter to Jack Straw.

Money for monitoring

Mark Sharman, head of policy at the BCC, said the organisation had three main problems with the Bill.

He said the BCC believes that the government has underestimated the cost of providing links to a MI5 operated monitoring centre so the police can watch web use.

The government has put a 30 million price tag on this project. But the BCC thinks the real cost could be much higher.

The BCC is also worried about another provision of the Bill which prohibits people providing the police with information from telling anyone else.

The BCC fears that network managers will be put in a difficult position if they are asked to hand over sensitive company information to help a police investigation but cannot tell anyone else about it.

There are also worries about what happens to sensitive information once it is handed over.

Currently, the Bill does not offer any compensation to companies who lose business because sensitive information goes missing or is leaked after it has been given to the police.

"The Bill should make it clear that law enforcement agencies are liable under civil law for the loss or misuse of keys," said Mr Sharman.

Last month, the Alliance of Electronic Business wrote to Home Office minister Charles Clarke expressing similar worries.

Now the Federation of the Electronic Industries is now looking into the potential cost of complying with the RIP Bill.

The Bill returns to Parliament next week when it will go through its Committee stage.

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