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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"The British Chamber of Commerce welcomed the changes"
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Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Ministers amend net snooping legislation
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Ministers are updating the law, taking new technology into account
Several key changes are being made to the UK Government's controversial plans to allow the police sweeping powers to monitor e-mails.

The Home Office has said that under the changes the home secretary must sign a warrant before an individual's e-mails can be monitored.

Other amendments include informing company directors if their staff are asked to hand over the passwords or encryption keys used to protect e-mail.

Ministers have denied the change of heart amounts to a climbdown, but they hope it will avert the threatened defeat of their Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill in the House of Lords.

There will also be moves to reassure Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that they will not face excessive costs.

Business backs compromise

Under the Bill, ISPs are to be required to aid the government monitor the e-mails passing through their servers.

The RIP Bill has been widely criticised by business and civil liberties groups. It has also had a difficult passage through Parliament in the face of opposition from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, who have threatened to vote the bill down.

The British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the amendments and a spokesman indicated that they might be sufficient for the organisation to drop its opposition.

The government has defended the Bill, which has been described as "draconian", as a necessary move to update the law to help counter criminals who are taking advantage of new technology.

"They have gone further than I was expecting," said Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research and one of the keenest critics of the Bill.

'Difficult to administer'

Mr Bowden welcomed the amendments, but he said the government had yet to tackle what happens when people have genuinely forgotten the key or password that reveals information the police want.

Also missing was movement on handing over the keys or passwords for any future web browsing or e-mail messages.

He said critics of the Bill would be watching to see if these areas are tackled during the Lords debate on the Bill.

But he said the result of these changes was a horrendously complex Bill that might be hard to administer.

"If you thought we had reached the pain barrier of complexity before, well it is now much worse."

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13 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Net laws could cost business
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