Legislation that will give UK police more power to snoop on Internet users is on the verge of becoming law after passing through a third and final reading in the House of Lords Wednesday.
Despite significant amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill, opponents remain convinced that once it becomes law it will damage Britain's e-business credibility.
Changes made in the Lords introduced safeguards that give companies the right to sue law enforcers if negligence is suspected in the handling of sensitive information. A further amendment made it incumbent on the police to inform a senior judge before they can capture encryption keys.
But despite a victory for its critics on at least two counts, the RIP Bill held one of its most controversial aspects: that which gives police the power to demand keys required for decrypting messages or Government Access to Keys (GAK).
"The bottom line: Britain still remains the only G8 nation with GAK powers," says director of government legislation think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), Caspar Bowden. He condemned the amended law on encryption as "unenforceable and unfathomable".
Concern persists over the cost to ISPs of implementing the Bill even though the government has agreed to set aside £20m towards the Bill. It has also accepted the creation of a Technical Advisory Board to oversee orders served to ISPs. Total cost and details of how the surveillance will be implemented is, however, still unclear.
These nebulous details need to be exposed according to regulation officer for London ISP Linx, Roland Perry. "There has been no publicity about the cost recovery of policemen turning up with a list of emails and saying 'tell us where these people live'. There needs to be a balance between requirements [placed upon ISPs] and levels of urgency."
Although the government claims that the Bill just extends existing police surveillance capabilities, some still think that giving the authorities direct access to all email goes too far.
The Home Office did not return press calls.
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