Gov't Big Brother plans draw fire from ISPA

ISPA says the government's data-surveillance plans will have a side-effect: crippling the UK service-provider business.

The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) has joined the ranks of those criticising the government's proposed update to the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA).

The government wants to update IOCA for the digital age, allowing law enforcers to monitor emails and Net traffic. ISPA is concerned over the costs ISPs will face to comply with the proposals. The organisation, which represents 78 UK ISPs, also believes the move will hobble the development of new technology.

ISPA chief executive Tim Pearson believes the proposed changes could damage the burgeoning ISP business. "Internet service is one of the fastest moving parts of the economy. If ISPs have to provide interception capability on every new technology they introduce it will hold back the UK industry," he said.

As well as implementation costs -- which Demon Internet puts as high as £1m -- Pearson has privacy concerns. Currently ISPs are required to surrender information to the police under the Data Protection Act if a warrant is produced. The warrant must state why the data is needed and if ISPs are not satisfied by the reasons given, they have the right to refuse. Under the IOCA proposals, that right will be lost. It will become compulsory to surrender data upon request from the police. The ISP could also be asked to provide further information such as Web sites visited or lists of people emailed.

GreenNet, an ISP providing Net services for campaigning groups, trade unions and activists around the world, is worried the consultation's vague definition of serious crime will mean civil rights campaigners could be targeted. The Government has maintained that civil liberties organisations will not be endangered by IOCA and that it is necessary only for the pursuit of serious crime.

GreenNet is not convinced: "Of particular concern to us is that the definition of 'serious crime' warranting an interception of communication order will continue to include 'offences involving a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose,' " said Karen Banks, director of the ISP. "Making such activities a 'serious crime', justifying an interception of communication order against people planning them on the Internet, represents a serious attack on civil liberties."