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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Net snooping bill 'harms business'
computer & padlock
Peers say safeguards will be vital
A bill giving police powers to see people's e-mails will work against the interests of British industry, the government has been warned.

And the legislation has been dubbed "bungled and shambolic".

The way the bill came to us from the Commons it was in danger of frightening off an awful lot of businesses from this country

Lord Cope, Conservative
The warnings came from Conservative peers who say businessmen consider the plans a "snoopers' charter".

The controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill has already been passed by the Commons and is debated during committee stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

On Tuesday the Home Office revealed several key changes would be made to the bill.

Under the changes, the home secretary must sign a warrant before an individual's e-mails can be monitored.

Business 'frightened off'

Opposition peers' leader Lord Strathclyde said the principles behind the legislation had not been properly thought through before it was brought to Parliament.

Now the government had tabled amendments in the Lords which would have to be looked at by MPs, causing more delay.

Lord Strathclyde said ministers wanted police to have the extra powers in the battle against crime and terrorism, but that safeguards were essential if firms were not to be "frightened off" coming to the City.

He said: "We want to make sure it protects the legitimate interests and freedom of individuals." He said the balance must be found between that freedom and the job of the police.

The concessions did not go far enough and there were still enormous drafting complications, he said.

'Important fight against crime'

Lord Cope, the opposition frontbench spokesman on the bill, said: "We are, of course, in favour of the underlying principles behind the bill.

"It is important that the Police and Customs and Excise and security services should be able to tap into e-mails and the internet, when they really need to, just as they tap into telephones at the moment.

"This is important in the fight against crime, international organised crime, drugs, paedophiles and terrorism.

"But it is also important that there should be proper safeguards.

"And the way the bill came to us from the Commons it was in danger of frightening off an awful lot of businesses from this country."

The government defends the bill as a necessary move to update the law to help counter criminals who are taking advantage of new technology.

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

Ministers denied the change of heart amounts to a climbdown, but they hope it will avert the threatened defeat of their bill in the House of Lords.

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Ministers amend net snooping legislation
13 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Net laws could cost business
12 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Criticism of net snooping bill grows
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