Networks '99: UK snoop plans will force Net users abroad

Government plans to force ISPs to routinely scan email will force Net users abroad according to security experts at this week's Networks telecom 99 exhibition in Birmingham.

Last week Home secretary Jack Straw announced the Interception of Communications Consultation Paper,drafted to tackle terrorism and drug trafficking by giving ISPs powers to tap into emails. But the plans have been slated by experts who see the plans as little more than an impotent gesture by a government struggling to understand the electronic communications revolution.

For a start how are they going to enforce something on this scale? asks Andy Harris, technical director at Content Technologies. Even if the government was able to enforce the proposals, Harris says UK customers would simply switch to a foreign ISP: People aren't stupid, they'll simply move their business to a country where Big Brother isn't peering over their shoulder.

Even as Mr. Straw battles to convince ISPs that intercept capability is necessary to protect Britain against industrial espionage and organised crime, experts scoff at what has become an embarrassing exercise for Labour.

This sort of proposal typically affects consumers says Ian Kilpatrick, group managing director of value added distributor Wick Hill. Not only will this be counterproductive, with people using strong encryption like PGP, but it will also put people off going to an ISP in this country. People will not be willing to trust ISPs, it is not what ISPs do and I don't think many will be interested in taking on that extra responsibility.

If the proposals go ahead, ISPs would be required to fall into line with telecomms operators and the Post Office: both are required by law to intercept transmissions when presented with a warrant. Under the proposal ISPs would have to "take reasonable steps to ensure that their system is capable of being intercepted".

The Home Office declined to comment.

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