Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 13:09 UK

'Slow progress' on internet crime

Computer keyboard
The committee has been looking at personal internet security and e-crime

The government is still not doing enough to protect people from online crime, says a committee of peers.

The committee warned in August that internet lawlessness was "rife" - but ministers dismissed their concerns.

That prompted a follow-up inquiry and report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

They said ministers' "indifference" now appeared to have ended but only because of high profile data losses. But they said "progress" still appeared "slow".

The committee published its first report in August 2007, when it criticised the government's "Wild West" approach of leaving responsibility for internet security up to the individual.

It said it thought it "unrealistic" to expect people to be able take the necessary steps.

'Slightly more positive'

But in its response last year, the government made no commitment to accept any of the recommendations and said it did not agree with its conclusions.

In its follow-up inquiry, published on Tuesday, the committee said it was pleased that after the "disappointment" of the first response that ministers were "able to offer a slightly more positive view of how the committee's recommendations were to be taken forward".

What in fact appears to have been a level of indifference on the part of the government has now been dispelled only as a result of recent incidents involving serious losses of personal data
Committee report

It said Home Office minister Vernon Coaker had acknowledged that "our follow up inquiry had prompted the government to re-consider their response" and had helped "drive the agenda forward".

But it said there was still much work to be done adding: "The government's assertion that they are driving forward the personal internet security agenda is more a matter of promises for the future than achievements in the present."

The committee said it was "disappointing" that, despite a commitment from the government to work with the industry to improve confidence in internet security - there had been no "concrete developments".

It took "some comfort" from Business minister Baroness Vadera's apparent interest in a kite-marking scheme and code of conduct for Internet Service Providers.

It also urged the government to legislate to make banks liable for losses from electronic fraud - rather than relying on the Banking Code - and to review the way banks handle complaints about internet fraud.

The committee said it was pleased that the government had decided, after initially rejecting the idea, to look again at the way people report online fraud.

Peers want to change guidelines where police first refer people to Apacs - the UK's payment body - before deciding whether to investigate.

Slow progress

On data security, peers said Baroness Vadera's comment that the loss of two discs containing 25m people's child benefit details had been "a bit of a wake-up call" appeared to them to be "an understatement of the seriousness of what has been happening within government".

"We regret that what in fact appears to have been a level of indifference on the part of the government has now been dispelled only as a result of recent incidents involving serious losses of personal data," they said.

"As Mr Richard Thomas, information commissioner, told the Joint Committee on Human Rights: 'It should not take a train crash to prevent casualties on the railway'."

Peers said they "look forward" to an early report from the various reviews into data security since put in place about how it will be strengthened in government, and in business.

Overall it said there had been "some progress" towards meeting the committee's concerns but added: "What progress there is, however, appears to be slow."

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