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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
'Snooping' bill protests stepped up
Lord Bassam of Brighton
Lord Bassam of Brighton is defending the RIP bill in the Lords
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Opponents of the government's "snooping" bill are keeping up the pressure to amend or scrap the controversial legislation.

An alliance of 50 organisations has delivered a letter to the House of Lords, ahead of the start of the final debate on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill.

The letter set out the worries of the organisations, which say the RIP bill gives government unprecedented right to snoop on citizens.

The increased pressure comes as a government peer admitted that the bill will mean that sometimes innocent emails will be intercepted when security forces are carrying out surveillance on suspects.

Deep concerns

The open letter called for the government to scrap the RIP bill because of its chilling effect on civil liberties and the damage it could do to the UK's embryonic e-commerce firms.

The letter said: "We are deeply concerned that the bill will inhibit the development of the internet and e-commerce, while creating a range of onerous and unfair impositions on individuals, organisations and companies."

Organisations signing the letter included The Royal College of Nursing, the Countryside Alliance, Claire Rayner of the Patients Association, the Manufacturing, Science & Finance Union as well as Liberty and other civil liberties groups.

Signatories to the letter were co-ordinated by civil rights watchdog Privacy International

The letter was delivered to coincide with the start of the report stage of the RIP bill in the House of Lords.

A Home Office spokesman said the government was responding with its own open letter that will be published on the RIP website.

He said there was no chance that the bill was going to be scrapped and said the concerns expressed in the letter were old worries.

"The concerns we are seeing now are the ones we have seen from the start from people that do not want the bill," he said.

RIP Report

The protest comes as Home Office minister Lord Bassam revealed in a letter to Liberal Democrat Lord Phillips that surveillance carried out under the bill might result in information being inadvertently collected about innocent citizens.

Under section 15.3 of the RIP bill security forces gain the right to capture lots of data and then hunt through it for the information they need.

The admission first came to light on technology news website the451.

The FBI has revealed that it is using a snooping system called Carnivore, which can collect and sift through hundreds of e-mails.

Carnivore piggybacks on the network run by internet service providers and scans all incoming and outgoing email of people under surveillance.

Civil liberty groups decried the existence of Carnivore, saying it violates FBI operating rules that demand it only spies on named targets and does not carry out "trawling" operations.

The RIP bill will give police and security agencies the same ability to tap email messages.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
ISPs RIP warning
06 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Net laws 'still allow snooping'
27 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Ministers amend net snooping legislation
19 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Peers examine email tapping
12 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Criticism of net snooping bill grows
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