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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Is net surveillance prying or policing?
Responsible policing or inappropriate prying - that is the increasingly acrimonious debate in the UK over whether the government should have the power to read your e-mail or track your surfing on the web.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Ministers argue that the internet is easily harnessed for crime and so the power to intercept electronic communications is essential.
But critics have been fierce in their opposition, describing the proposed laws as appalling, objectionable and bad for business.
Civil liberties groups say the laws, if passed, would invade privacy. They are also worried about one proposed power which could jail people who cannot prove they never possessed the key to encrypted information found on their computers.
And business says that, if the cost burden for snooping equipment is placed on them, the UK's competitiveness in e-commerce will suffer.
Dave Earnshaw, Luxembourg
It's all very well saying that innocent people have nothing to fear but once consent is given to allow the UK Government to monitor our internet activity how long do you really think it will be before they abuse the privilege?
Although emails are an informal way of communication, I do think that monitoring is a breech of privacy. It is just like bugging a house. The police should only monitor your Internet and email use if they have enough evidence to do so.
The US authorities have always monitored and controlled all media. The only way to deal with them is simply to dissent openly and honourably.
Bob Peffers, Scotland
I come from the UK but now live in the United Arab Emirates, which already has Internet policing. The Government (and the Internet monopoly it controls) receives no end of complaints and everyone here is generally just fed up with the way the Government tries to control what people view and do online. Britain should take a look at what's going on here before it takes the plunge itself.
This kind of surveillance is like putting CCTV cameras into our living rooms. It's the sign of a totalitarian state.
This Government is already removing too many personal choices and liberties from the population. Preaching morals to the populace whilst demonstrably NOT practising what they preach doesn't impress. Any future government may be even more draconian, so giving them legal powers to pry and probe even more is highly dangerous to the individual.
Oliver May, UK
"If people have done nothing wrong then they have no fear of surveillance" - so why are the government afraid of putting the RIP powers under the order of a judge much like they do with mail and phone calls. They do not want surveillance on what they are doing so why should we put up with it for ourselves.
The issue here is that there is an implicit assumption that everyone is "under suspicion" or at least that everyone is a potential suspect. The money which will be wasted on this exercise in paranoia would be better spent in equipping firms and universities with the technology and skills to become world leaders in e-commerce.
It may be true that CCTV in town centres has reduced crime, but would you not be concerned if the government wanted to install cameras inside every home and office in the country?
As this awful bill is likely to become law, I await with interest the first time it is tested against the European Convention of Human Rights.
This Bill is a great idea. I plan to send encrypted messages to Tony Blair and then gloat as I watch him sit in jail for two years for failing to disclose the key.
Whatever you do, the market will react. Pass this bill and place one more burden on the development of the Internet in the UK.
One person made the comment; "if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from justifiable surveillance". However, while this sounds reasonable, we should be asking who decides what constitutes "wrong".
The Canadian Government, rather embarrassed, has just admitted to having a database of personal information collected on hundred of thousands of Canadians "for research purposes". What will keep the UK Government from pulling a similar "Big Brother" stunt when they have the power of law behind them?
The governments of the world fear the Internet. It respects no borders and it can easily carry information, images and news that are banned in some countries. Governments do not like such things and although they cannot prevent sites from carrying such information when they are based in another country, they can monitor access.
John Scullion, Zimbabwe (currently UK)
The introduction of this legislation (sometimes referred to as R.I.P) not only gives "the Government" and security services the ability to view people's e-mail but it also give them the power to force people to disclose private information including passwords used for encryption. Whilst most people would agree that forcing a criminal to disclose a password that would decrypt records of criminal activities is a good thing, what effect would this have on legitimate businesses trying to trade and communicate electronically?
One of the most sinister things about this bill is that it turns British law on its head. From now on, you're guilty until proved innocent. If you forget any of your passwords, it could be 2 years in prison unless you can actually prove that you forgot them and how on earth do you do that? The innocent have just as much to fear from this bill as the guilty.
I would hate to think that someone is sniffing around in my mailbox and monitoring which sites I go to. This is one's personal life. Indeed, the police have no respect for privacy with or without the aforementioned bill. That is why most of my e-mail correspondence is PGP encrypted. If you care for your privacy, I'd suggest that you to do the same.
Richard Jones, London, UK
As the government is already in danger of losing the support of business, this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back and I would advise politicians to rethink this one. One of the main reasons cited for this control is the use of the Internet by paedophiles. This is, in fact, a bit of a red herring as most of these people find their victims in their own homes not on the net.
Although some individuals do commit crimes via the internet, that fact shouldn't be used as a spring board for police snooping into everyone's privacy. I am amazed at how quickly Britons are willing to give up their rights. Everyone shouldn't suffer for the behaviour of a few.
What about those of us purchasing goods using our credit cards? What about those of us having private conversations in chat rooms or via web-cams? You may as well have a stranger sitting behind you watching your every move.
It seems that according to current thinking, "innocent until proven guilty" is no longer part of justice.
The beauty of the Internet is its freedom. Looking at what people have downloaded will greatly reduce this freedom. Ultimately it will erode one's liberties
Someone once said that "anonymity is the last defence against the tyranny of the majority". Roll on tyranny. The police state looms ever closer.
Giving the government unlimited power
to read your e-mails and track your
'net surfing is the equivalent of giving
the government unlimited power to tap
everyone's phones and read everyone's
mail. This sounds like a police-state
to me. Yes, the internet is used for
crime, but then, so is every other
method of communication.
Only those who are doing wrong will oppose surveillance.
The streets of every country are policed and the streets of the Web should be policed.
Nick Hamilton, New Zealand
It is a breach of individual freedom, it is a breach of free speech and it is a crime against democracy. Such surveillance should not be allowed or accepted in any form in any civilised country.
As a humble seeker after truth I have nothing to hide, but an Englishman is entitled to his drawbridges against the prurient perverse prying New Labour control freaks.
Just imagine the capability to read encrypted e-mails etc. In the hands of someone like Hitler or Stalin. It would be almost if not impossible to mount any resistance!
I am no criminal and use the internet only for legal and quite innocuous research and communication. Therefore any surveillance of my usage would be unjustifiable. It would only be justifiable if I was suspected of criminal activity and proper, strict, checks and balances had been fulfilled, ones which were publicly accessible. I don't care that I've nothing to hide - I still don't want the Police and the Government prying into my personal affairs. I don't trust them.
In democracies, tapping of peoples
telephones is severely restricted with
good reasons. It protects democracy.
With indiscriminate tapping democracy
is in danger.
Let's assume for a moment that
both group A and group B have done
something wrong. Then if A can tap
B, but B cannot tap A, which
of the two will be more likely to govern
Mr T. Christy, UK
It's not as if they haven't been able to read our e-mails or listen to our phone calls before. Eschelon is the system used to listen to phone calls, filtering for specific words so that the NSA or GCHQ can work out if we're a threat.
The current Bill totally fails to take into account that the web has changed the way we do business, communicate and build communities. The government's attempt to intervene in this process is an affront to civil liberties and will do nothing to stop crime.
Enterprise and innovation is brought through freedom. The plans, apart from an invasion of human rights, go against the idealism of the Internet.
The new laws in England will not prevent crime. With the current encryption methods available, detection of illegal activities will be almost impossible.
Mark Ormerod, England
Most people will be opposed to this because it means they could get caught downloading illegal pornography.
I think that to allow the authorities the opportunity to intercept and read electronic communications is terrible. Although laws exist to give permission to intercept snail mail and telephone calls, there are procedures in place, which limit the activity the police can use without referral to a court of law. The same should apply to electronic communication as well.
If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from justifiable surveillance.
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