RIP comes in for roasting from former government adviser

The IoD says the RIP bill goes too far and will hinder Blair's 'UK best for e-commerce' goal
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

The government's beleaguered Internet snooping bill looks shaky Monday as ex-government adviser and Institute of Directors' chief joins mounting criticism of the legislation.

The Institute of Directors(IoD) head of e-business policy, Professor Jim Norton -- formerly head of the Cabinet Office's Performance of Innovation Unit which produced the definitive government report on e-commerce last September -- is the latest critic of the RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) Bill.

The RIP Bill has been rushed through parliament as government tries to find a way to cope with surveillance in the wake of new technology. If the bill becomes law, ISPs would be forced to install equipment linking through to police and MI5 officers.

The bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords and is likely to face a rough ride as political and business experts call for it to be scrapped.

In his new job Norton has turned from advice to criticism, pointing out that government plans to crack down on crime could have much wider implications. "Loose definitions and drafting might allow future administrations scope to re-interpret and extend the use of these powers far beyond the government's stated goals," he says.

"Is it really the intention to provide Inland Revenue or VAT inspectors or DTI Company investigators with these powers? Even the car park attendant at the Home Office seems to have them under current drafting!"

The government claims that to gain access to email and other Internet data, police will need a warrant but Norton points out that loopholes in the bill means a whole raft of data can be accessed without one.

"In principle every click of the mouse, every page visited, or button clicked could be regarded as such data and collected with impunity," he says. Accusing the government of "scoring an own goal" with the legislation, Norton urges immediate amendments to the bill.

The IoD, along with the British Chamber of Commerce, is concerned that it is unfeasible for large businesses to comply with the bill. It airs doubts that the government can achieve its 'UK best for e-commerce' goal if it goes ahead with the legislation.

Norton sums up the attitude of much of the business community: "The UK stance on this bill is worrying many companies; especially multi-nationals who contrast the proposed UK legislation against far more business friendly proposals in Ireland, France and Germany and even the USA," he says.

A report, commissioned by the British Chamber of Commerce and due to go before the Lords Monday, is expected to put the cost to ISPs of installing surveillance equipment as much higher than government has previously estimated.

The government's Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill looks set for a bumpy ride thorough the House of Lords. Good. Give it hell says Tony Westbrook. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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