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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Peers pass e-mail interception bill

The bill gives the security forces unique powers
Plans to allow the security services to intercept private e-mails have passed the House of Lords.

But the bill only gained the approval of peers after ministers agreed to another significant change to the widely criticised bill.

On Wednesday, ministers put in place a new safeguard allowing business to sue the security services if their confidentiality was breached as a result of the interception of e-mails.

Under the bill companies are required to surrender encryption keys to the authorities during the conduct of an investigation.

Material taken will be held by MI5, under strict security conditions.

'Zombie legislation'

Responding to the news, Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, an Internet policy think-tank, said the legislation would leave the UK as the only European nation where the government had the power to seize encryption keys from businesses.

Although welcoming the changes made by peers on Wednesday, Mr Bowden said the bill was still seriously flawed.

"It's Zombie legislation. Although clinically dead with macabre wounds, it still lumbers on menacing both individual privacy and commercial confidence"

Increased regulation

Tighter regulation of the measures contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill has also been put in place.

Police will now be required to inform a judge within seven days of serving an order on a company.

Other changes to the bill will see a Technical Advisory Board oversee the installation of intercept capabilities at internet service providers.

The cost of this will be partially borne by the government, which has already set aside 20m for the purpose.

Most of the changes to the bill had been forced by an alliance of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers.

Tory peer Lord Cope said much had been done to mitigate the worst aspects of the bill but he added: "It has been done too much in haste."

The bill, which ministers say is necessary to allow the authorities to combat criminals' use of technology, now returns to the Commons for its final stages.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
'Snooping' bill protests stepped up
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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