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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.

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.

Do you think these concerns are minor when faced with the online threat of organised crime and paedophiles? Or are the measures heavy-handed and ill thought out? Send us your views. HAVE YOUR SAY

Should the Royal Mail make photocopies of all letters every person in the UK sends and receives?

Dave Earnshaw, Luxembourg
Should the Royal Mail make photocopies of all letters every person in the UK sends and receives? Should the Government control circulation of the press and record what newspapers, magazines and books every individual reads? Why is the Internet any different.
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?
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK

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.
James Thorlby, York, England

The US authorities have always monitored and controlled all media. The only way to deal with them is simply to dissent openly and honourably.
Chris Herz, Frederick, Md, USA



All instances of interception must be made public with a list being available to everyone

Bob Peffers, Scotland
The Government must have the right to intercept any kind of communication but this right must be very well policed itself. The only way that this can be assured is for an independent body to oversee all data interception. All instances of interception must be made public with a list being available to everyone. A time limit must also be set so that the authorities cannot sit on the details for unreasonable times.
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.
Jamie Evans, UAE

This kind of surveillance is like putting CCTV cameras into our living rooms. It's the sign of a totalitarian state.
BC students, Japan

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.
S. T. Ashton, Waltham, UK



I'm happy for us to be watched if it means our country will be safer to live in

Oliver May, UK
I would rather live in a country where I had the mild inconvenience of my Internet use being monitored. I'm happy for us to be watched if it means our country will be safer to live in.
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.
Much like their freedom of information bill, they have excluded the things that they wish to hide which are the very things that we wish to know.
Duncan Stevens, UK



The money which will be wasted on this exercise in paranoia would be better spent in equipping firms and universities

Brian, UK
If the devices for surveillance are connected to feed information to the security services, what happens to the information? It's not so long since a number of laptop computers went missing embarrassing all concerned.
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.
Brian, UK

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?
Ross McKelvie, UK

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.
Tony White, UK



If the government believes that I may be doing something illegal, then I have every right to distrust them as well

Jim, USA
I've done nothing wrong, but I don't want government employees reading my email or monitoring my business over the Internet. If they can read my mail, then they can get my credit card number. What then will stop a dishonest government employee from stealing from the public? If the government believes that I may be doing something illegal, then I have every right to distrust them as well.
Jim, USA

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.
John W, UK

Whatever you do, the market will react. Pass this bill and place one more burden on the development of the Internet in the UK.
Amoroso, Kenya

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".
Alain Dekker, UK



No democracy is truly free, but live within its laws and you have nothing to fear

Deidre, USA
Why are Britons afraid of Internet policing? There are already 1.6million CCTV cameras throughout the country photographing you as you conduct your daily business. As a socialistic democracy, you demand that your government takes care of you and protects you when things go awry. You asked for this nanny state, then you complain when you think they are overstepping their bounds. You can't have it both ways. No democracy is truly free, but live within its laws and you have nothing to fear.
Deidre, USA

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?
Kristian, Canada

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.
Ian Thomas, England



I find it absurd that a free country such as Britain is even contemplating similar legislation

John Scullion, Zimbabwe (currently UK)
In Zimbabwe a bill allowing the government access to people's e-mail and internet browsing history was put forward as a national security requirement, while in reality its purpose was to suppress the opposition and inhibit freedom of speech. Whilst to my knowledge, the bill has not yet been signed by Mr Mugabe, the fact that it went through parliament had the exact effect that the government wanted, i.e. people were too scared to send e-mails mentioning the opposition, or look at web sites mentioning anything political. I find it absurd that a free country such as Britain is even contemplating similar legislation.
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?
Ray Penn, UK

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.
Mr A Hall, UK

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.
Felix Polianski , Latvia



People forget very easily that just 60 years ago, a major democratic European country became a brutal police state in less than ten years

Richard Jones, London, UK
The problem is not what the current government will do with the network. It is the possible actions of a future, less reliable government. People forget very easily that just 60 years ago, a major democratic European country became a brutal police state in less than ten years.
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.
J.Cahill, UK

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.
Christopher Wells, USA

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.
Gary Holcombe, UK

It seems that according to current thinking, "innocent until proven guilty" is no longer part of justice.
Jamie Walker, UK

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
John Passport, Zimbabwe

Someone once said that "anonymity is the last defence against the tyranny of the majority". Roll on tyranny. The police state looms ever closer.
Tony Hague, UK



Years of CCTV and DNA databases have reduced your crime rate drastically, have they not?

Tom, Australia
I think the British government has a strong argument. Britain is the most intrusive free society in the world. Years of CCTV and DNA databases have reduced your crime rate drastically, have they not? You certainly wouldn't have any Yardie murders unsolved, or TV celebrities murdered without the crime being solved, hooliganism must be a thing of the past in Britain. To ensure Britain remains a crime-free, safe democratic society, it is imperative that the government read all e-mail and track all websites visited...
Tom, Australia

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.
Jeff USA

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.
Jack P, Canada



Being a "free" country carries responsibilities to maintain that freedom.

Nick Hamilton, New Zealand
If Britain gives the state power to read emails, etc. it will encourage other countries to follow suit. Being a "free" country carries responsibilities to maintain that freedom.
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.
Mikko Toivonen Finland

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.
David de Vere Webb, UK

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!
Jonathan Shiell, UK

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.
Sam Pearson, England (currently in Oz)

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 the country?
P. Schrader, Germany



Would you be happy having your phone tapped, or having the police come around every morning and search through your house?

Mr T. Christy, UK
This is unacceptable. Many people (particularly politicians) will use the argument that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. This statement holds no water. Would you be happy having your phone tapped, or having the police come around every morning and search through your house? Of course not, it would be unacceptable. Why is invading my net privacy any different? The thin end of the wedge springs to mind.
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.
Mark Wayt, UK

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.
Donald Shelley, England

Enterprise and innovation is brought through freedom. The plans, apart from an invasion of human rights, go against the idealism of the Internet.
Alan Stafford, England

The new laws in England will not prevent crime. With the current encryption methods available, detection of illegal activities will be almost impossible.
Stuart Wyatt, France



If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from justifiable surveillance

Greg Bensont, UK
The main issue here is that this bill seems to be giving the Government complete access to every individual on-line, whether or not they are suspected of involvement in a crime. No one disputes the need to fight crime on the net, but until the bill is significantly altered, I don't feel confident that it won't be used to persecute those looking at politically 'sensitive' material, or expressing such views privately via email.
Mark Ormerod, England

Most people will be opposed to this because it means they could get caught downloading illegal pornography.
Anthony Clark, UK

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.
Gareth Jones, UK

If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from justifiable surveillance.
Greg Bensont, UK


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See also:

10 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Warning of more internet attacks
31 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Website campaign to derail legislation
10 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Surveillance bill under fire
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