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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 18:14 GMT
MPs urge changes to net snooping laws
Magnifying glass
Government may have to rein in snooping plans
An influential group of MPs has attacked government plans for internet snooping.

Legislation that requires net data to be stored for the use of law enforcers are contradictory and unworkable, the All Party Internet Group (APIG) has concluded.

The controversial plans to force internet service providers to keep records of a customer's e-mail and web browsing has enraged the industry and much of the legislation has yet to be implemented.

It could be time to stand back and rethink the plans, said Liberal Democrat MP Richard Allan, a member of the APIG.

Knee-jerk reaction

"Some of the legislation conflicts with each other and we feel that there are major problems with data retention," he told BBC News Online.

Richard Allan MP
We are not saying that the security services and others do not need access to data but they must do it in a sensible way

Richard Allan MP
The police have admitted that the parts of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, (ATCS), requiring ISPs to retain customer data for up to six years is not compliant with the Human Rights Act.

The ATCS was rushed through parliament following the terror attacks in America.

"It was brought in hurriedly as a reaction to things and I'm not sure it was necessary or thought out," said Mr Allan.

The APIG recommends that the government abandon the idea of data retention and opt instead for data preservation.

This would mean that in exceptional circumstances such as terrorist attacks, ISPs would be asked to keep hold of data from a particular day.

"We can't see the benefit of holding it for longer and the costs involved would be quite significant for ISPs," said Mr Allan.

AOL has estimated that it would cost it 25m to implement the requirements of both the Anti-Terrorism law and the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

It would cost it another 9m to maintain the system and require 360,000 CDs to store a year's worth of data, it recently told MPs.

Trusted parties

Government plans to allow other bodies such as trading standards and local councils to access customer data stalled last summer after a public backlash.

We need government help to make sure the balance between public protection and the right to privacy is kept without bankrupting ISPs

ISPA spokesman
It is back on the agenda now and the APIG has asked government to make sure that only trusted parties - known as Single Points of Contact - have access to data.

"The legislation needs to be changed so that the public are reassured that trusted parties such as the police are filtering requests for data," said Mr Allan.

"We are not saying that the security services and others do not need access to data.

"But they must do it in a sensible way that doesn't put ISPs out of business, which isn't illegal and which the public are comfortable with," he added.

Privacy versus protection

ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association) has welcomed the inquiry and the APIG's report.

"It is important that an influential group of MPs have made this report and the whole process of getting a public enquiry has been a big victory for us," said an ISPA spokesman.

"Hopefully it will make the Home Office take notice of our concerns about how this legislation is implemented and who will pay for it," he added.

"ISPA wants to fulfil everyone's wishes but we need government help to make sure the balance between public protection and the right to privacy is kept without bankrupting ISPs," he said.

The Home Office welcomes the report and says it is currently studying it carefully.

See also:

19 Dec 02 | Technology
20 Aug 02 | Technology
17 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
26 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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