IT think tank opens doors to supporters

A leading think tank, which has done more than any other to influence the UK's online privacy laws, has a new proposition for its supporters

IT think tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) is launching an effort to draw more support from the IT community.

Individuals and corporates are being encouraged to sign up as Friends of FIPR in return for a subscription to the Foundation's alert service, invitations to FIPR meetings and parties, and a "warm glow of satisfaction from helping FIPR."

Launching the iniative at the Cambridge Computer Lab on Monday, FIPR chairman Ross Anderson, who is a reader in security at the lab, said FIPR is hoping to expand because "the pace of stupid legislation is heating up recently."

FIPR was founded four years ago, said Anderson, "when it became apparent there were going to be more clashes between what we in the business would do and what those making policy would do." Anderson cited key escrow as an example -- the government's failed initiative to set up a national repository for keys to all data that is encrypted in the country.

"There are many more things we will have to deal with in the near future," said Anderson. "We are hoping to increase from one full-time staff member to several, and to help us do that we are starting to turn FIPR into broad-based, subscription-funded organisation."

Since its inception in May 1998, FIPR has played a fundamental role in changing several laws. When the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was passing through parliament, the Foundation successfully promoted amendments that prevented the surveillance of Web browsing without a warrant, ensured that those who lose keys or forget passwords would be presumed innocent, removed corporate criminal liability for inability to decrypt ("key escrow by intimidation"), raised the authorisation level for access to passwords and decryption keys to Chief Constable, transferred open-ended costs of deploying "black boxes" from ISPs to the Home Office and provided the interception commissioner with a right to a technical audit trail for oversight.

The foundation says it achieved these goals primarily by careful lobbying underpinned by rigorous research.

FIPR director Caspar Bowden, who acted as an adviser in the chamber during several House of Lords debates, said the aim is to build more awareness of the organisation, but said there is no specific target. "It is part of a fund-raising strategy to attract individual supporters," said Bowden, adding that corporate subscriptions would also be accepted for "about the same amount of money that trade associations would be asking for." However, he said, this does not mean the FIPR will become a trade association. "The idea is to provide a mechanism by which corporates can make a contribution too. This in no way represents a change in FIPR's status."

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