Hushmail backs UK anti-snooping effort

Privacy groups team up to combat UK Internet snooping law

UK Internet civil liberties group Cyber Rights & Cyber Liberties has teamed up with US email encryption company Hush Communications to overcome the RIP Act, which was recently made law.

Through a joint project 'Cyber-Rights.Net', the pair will provide a route to bypass snooping regulations in the UK and at the same time draw attention to what they view as international moves to synchronise Internet surveillance.

Hush Communications intends to setup and run a new Web site, www.cyber-rights.com, that will give UK Internet users easy-to-use email privacy.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, made law in October, gives law enforcement officers increased powers to eavesdrop on email communications.

The Hushmail service is able to bypass the legislation using a jurisdictional anomaly: servers for the UK service will be housed outside Britain.

While government claims the new Act extends existing surveillance power to the Internet, privacy groups argue it gives police too much power over Internet users and could be open to abuse.

"In the absence of clearly defined conditions and safeguards protecting the privacy of communications in homes and in working environments, it is time for the individual to take action and protect their communications," says director of Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties Yaman Akdeniz in a statement. "Cyber-Rights.Net will be an additional tool for concerned Internet users when securing their communications."

It is widely accepted that the government expected cryptography to spoil its policing of the Net. In a pre-emptive strike it rushed in legal powers allowing police to force suspects to decrypt messages. This can however only be enforced on data that falls within UK jurisdiction.

Keys to encrypt and decrypt Hushmail messages are stored outside the UK.

"HushMail Private Label will offer Cyber-Rights.Net users the most secure and user-friendly email solution available on the market today," says Jon Matonis, chief executive of Hush Communications.

The UK government is not alone in seeking to monitor Internet users, however. Russia and the Netherlands have similar laws to RIP and in the US, the FBI watches Internet users using email sifting technology codenamed Carnivore. The Council of Europe is also currently drafting up plans for a cybercrime unit aimed at coordinating international Internet policing. The world's leading G8 nations are also debating the issue.

More recently debate has centered on whether the RIP Act's powers contravene a citizen's right to privacy as embodied in the UK's new Human Rights Act.

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