UK Gov't Expects E-mail Snooping Bill to Become Law : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

UK Gov't Expects E-mail Snooping Bill to Become Law Wednesday, July 26, 2000 By Mike Peacock

LONDON  The British government expects a bill to allow police and security services to trawl private e-mails to become law after it returns to the House of Commons on Wednesday, officials said. "We are not expecting any trouble. It should go through the Commons today and on to the statute book," a Home Office source told Reuters.

Opposition Conservatives in the House of Lords have had their teeth into the legislation ever since it was hived off a broader e-commerce bill and handed to the Home Office.

They forced the government to insert a string of amendments in parliament's upper house. The bill returns to the Commons later in the day to ratify those changes.

"We have made amendments and we are happy to live with them, so there should not be any problems," the source said.

Given the government's huge majority, the bill looks set to become law before parliament starts its summer recess on Friday.

The government says it merely updates police powers to intercept and monitor communications, bringing them up to speed with technologically sophisticated criminals. People who refuse to yield encryption codes could face up to two years in jail.

The government has conceded that in most cases, companies will be able to hand over printed text rather than encryption keys needed to unscramble coded e-mail. The home secretary will have to personally approve all interception warrants.

But business chiefs warn the law could still drive e-businesses away from Britain in droves  not only on cost grounds, but also over the issue of commercial confidentiality.

Civil rights groups are also up in arms about potential infringements of personal privacy and the bill is being watched closely by European countries yet to legislate on the Internet and e-mail.

Business Groups Want Further Changes

Despite the changes, the Alliance for Electronic Business said the bill was still flawed and needed more tweaking.

It noted a government pledge that only senior officials would have access to encryption keys. But it said if companies could not provide printed text they would be obliged to provide a key but without the same guarantee about who could use it.

"This is clearly unworkable and the gap leaves the system open to abuse and is unfair," Tom Will-Sandford, director of the Federation of Electronics Industry, said.

Will-Sandford said business experts would continue to work with the government on the codes of practice attached to the bill. "The perception of the UK as a good place to do e-business has been tarnished and it is vital that we start trying to change this," he said.

Ministers have agreed safeguards including a right to sue police if confidential material is leaked because of their negligence.

An independent tribunal will be set up to hear complaints about interception by the law authorities. And the issuing of warrants will be overseen by an independent commissioner who must be a serving or retired judge

-- Martin Thompson (, July 27, 2000


I can't believe this is happening in a civilized, English-speaking country.

-- Billiver (, July 27, 2000.

What is this going to do to e-commerce in England? I've read where, world-wide, e-commerce is supposed to jump over 2,000% over the next three years. It seems to me the British are asking to be left far behind.

-- LillyLP (, July 27, 2000.

Ever since the British threw out of office, perhaps the greatest world leader of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, right after World War II, I am not surprised at any stupidity that comes out of that country.

-- Wellesey (, July 27, 2000.

The Q in my name is for questions. I'm always full of questions. I've got to agree with the question above. If the Tony Blair socialist government across the pond wishes to participate fully in the forthcoming e-commerce boom, why in the world would they do such a self destructive, shoot yourself in the foot, thing?

-- QMan (, July 27, 2000.

This is a mystery to me too; it has got to be more than just security, or to isolate themselves from porn. For heaven's sake, what will they be doing to their businesses?

-- Nancy7 (, July 27, 2000.

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