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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
ISPs RIP warning
vote shot
Union members are worried about the RIP Bill
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The UK Government's "snooping bill" is making internet companies consider moving their businesses overseas.

This week, three internet service providers said they were contemplating relocating outside the UK to ensure that the e-mail messages and surfing histories of customers are not spied upon.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill also came under fire from web luminary Esther Dyson, who said that if it became law it would turn Britain into a police state.

The RIP Bill should be withdrawn and rethought

Shaun Fensom, Poptel founder
The attacks come as the RIP Bill reaches a key stage in the House of Lords and the government hints at concessions to head off the growing chorus of criticism.

Net service providers Poptel, GreenNet and ClaraNet are all making contingency plans to site their businesses offshore if the RIP Bill passes into UK law.

The trio said worries about the snooping powers that the bill gives the police was forcing their decision.

Repressive regimes

Poptel chair and founder Shaun Fensom said the company was worried that it would not be able to guarantee the integrity of communications for some of its members who are regularly in conflict with the government.

Poptel counts the TUC and many other non-profit campaigning organisations among its customers

"The RIP Bill should be withdrawn and rethought," he said.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair is ready to make concessions on RIP Bill
"If it is not, we will have no alternative but to actively look at moving at least some of our services overseas."

In an interview in The Times newspaper, net expert Esther Dyson also called for the Bill to be scrapped.

She said the powers it gave the government were more like those seen in repressive regimes.

This week, the RIP Bill reaches its report stage in the House of Lords.

This will see the emergence of definitions of many of the terms in the Bill that have been criticised by civil liberty campaigners for their imprecision.

Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, and one of the keenest critics of the Bill, says the proposed definitions still give government the power to collect information on surfers.

The government is also rumoured to be ready to help companies with the cost of complying with the bill and setting up the network of links to any monitoring stations.

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See also:

28 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Net snooping bill 'harms business'
27 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Ministers amend net snooping legislation
13 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Net laws could cost business
19 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Peers examine email tapping
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Watching while you surf
10 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Surveillance bill under fire
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