ISPs debate offshore email to evade RIPA

The RIPA is not going away, but email servers just might

Several British ISPs are considering providing offshore email services in an effort to evade the government's controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which gives the authorities unprecedented surveillance powers.

Sources say ISPs are debating how to offer customers email accounts outside British jurisdiction with privacy groups and security experts. The move is partly to express frustration with the surveillance law, but also to acknowledge users' need for privacy.

RIPA gives law enforcers powers to monitor email communications using hardware installed at ISPs. They also have the power to demand that encrypted messages are turned into plain text.

The legislation has met with vehement opposition with some quarters of the business community accusing the government of introducing debilitating levels of liability for communications. ISPs are similarly displeased as they have to implement RIP compliant technology at some cost to themselves.

The government has yet to clarify how much this will cost ISPs and what contributions it will offer to ease the burden.

Other organisations -- some Trade Unions, for example -- fear that Government snooping capabilities will be inadequately controlled. They fear the system will be open to abuse for political ends.

If ISPs offer users email services that sidestep legislation it will be a severe embarrassment for Jack Straw's administration: not least because it confirms previous arguments that criminals could evade the law with considerable ease.

Brian Gladman, co-author of a report accusing RIPA of technical inadequacies, says the developments were innevitable. "The use of overseas email servers is one of a number of ways in which UK Internet users can move to restore their privacy in the face of a UK Government machine that is sadly determined to ensure that it has the apparatus to undermine the privacy of its citizens as and when it chooses."

The government, however, gives no indication that it would be swayed by this action. "What we're saying to ISPs is read the act and not the hype," says a Home Office spokesman. "RIPA is all about having a communications environment where it is possible to pursue criminals."

The spokesman adds that fleeing Britain might even be a futile exercise. "We may be taking the lead, but other nations are sure to follow."

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance, a ZDNet News Special

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