Under the proposed amendments (PDF), any business carrying out interception to provide 'value-added services' will require the consent of the sender and intended recipient of the communication.
The maximum penalty for unlawful interception will be increased from £5,000 to £50,000, and this penalty will apply to "unintentional acts" of unlawful interception, the Home Office said. The rules will now cover any person or organisation, not just communication service providers.
In theory, the amendments to Ripa would make both of these actions more clearly illegal. However, according to Alexander Hanff of Privacy International, this will not be the effect.
The revised Ripa doesn't offer any real protection. It introduces 'unintentional interception', which doesn't make any sense. – Alexander Hanff, Privacy International
"It [the revised Ripa] doesn't offer any real protection — it introduces 'unintentional interception', which doesn't make any sense," Hanff told ZDNet UK. "It gives companies a 'get out of jail free' card. [Companies engaged in] commercial interception will now offer a defence of unintentional interception for a minimal fine."
Hanff, who has always argued it would have been impossible for the Street View data collection to be truly accidental, said the maximum fine of £50,000 was so low as to make no difference to large businesses. "Companies will continue to break the law because the liability is so limited it doesn't act as a deterrent," he said.
Without strict liability, Hanff said, prosecutors will have to prove intentional guilt on the part of companies engaged in interception. "The Crown Prosecution Service won't prosecute because they don't have the funds and would argue it was not in the public interest to prosecute," Hanff said.
Parliament will now have to pass the amendments by affirmative resolution if they are to come into force.
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