RIP: Government claims no mass surveillance

Poptel makes a stand against the invasion of email confidentiality it believes the RIP Bill represents by stating its intention to relocate abroad if the bill becomes law
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

The government moves to reassure ISPs that mass surveillance is not on the RIP agenda as the bill suffers another setback this week.

It follows news that ISP Poptel intends to move abroad if the government's snooping bill becomes law, claiming that it would not be able to guarantee its clients -- which includes the TUC and trade unions -- email confidentiality.

The government claims to be "disappointed" by the news. "We have gone to great lengths to be inclusive and consult industry about the bill," says a Home Office spokesman. "The powers within RIP are directed at three specific areas: threat to national security, threat to economic well being and serious and organised crime."

The definition of serious crime includes the phrase "those gathered for a common purpose" which some civil liberties experts claim would include anyone organising a demonstration or anti-government protest. "That is not the case," reassures the Home Office spokesman. "It means those gathered for a common purpose to commit a serious crime and we are talking serious and organised."

Poptel is the first service provider to take direct action against RIP. "If the bill goes through we will be forced to consider moving abroad," says Shaun Fensom, chair of Poptel. "We don't want to do that but we owe it to our clients to have secure, confident communications."

Despite government reassurances, civil liberty campaigners are still concerned that organisations in dispute with the government could be targeted under the government's definition of legitimate surveillance.

"Anyone organising a demo is open to having their email read," asserts Chris Bailey, spokesman for the Association of Progressive Communications. "It is particularly worrying for international organisations who could have details passed over to regimes without democratic rights for individuals."

One of the ISPs owned by APC, GreenNet, is also considering moving abroad if RIP becomes law. Yaman Akdeniz, head of Cyber Rights & Cyber Liberties thinks many more could follow. "ISPs like AOL and CompuServe that are majority owned by a US company could move and that would be very troubling," he says.

While Akdeniz sympathises with Poptel's plight, he is concerned that it might make little difference. "I wonder how sensible it is. If it is still going to be offering services to the UK the government can still require them to install a black box," he says. "The real fight is in Parliament, to get the bill right or throw it out."

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