Watchdog warns Net policing will go unchecked

Tribunal intended to protect will be unable to prevent breaches of the European Human Rights Act under the RIP Act

The government has failed to prevent human rights abuses occurring under new high-tech investigation capabilities granted to law enforcers, according to a security service representative.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, passed earlier in the year, will require ISPs to install so-called black boxes to monitor Internet traffic and will also give police powers to demand that encrypted messages are decoded and those involved in investigations remain silent.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) -- Britain's intelligence services watchdog -- has raised concern that the Act's Regulatory Tribunal, created to provide checks against abuses of this power, will be relatively toothless. Members of the ISC say that the tribunal will be under-staffed, under-funded and unable to protest on behalf of ordinary Internet users.

Alan Beith MP, a member of ISC, said in a Commons RIP debate this week that the tribunal was "quite incapable of carrying out its job" with its tiny support staff. He described the situation as ludicrous. Beith also stated that the tribunal was "Britain's defence in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights" and warned that it could not be guaranteed to protect these rights.

The tribunal's powers, announced in September, are limited according to some. Evidence from complainants and the authorities will be taken in separate hearings and the tribunal will have not have the right to cross-examine the testimony of the authorities or access the evidence classified as "secret".

Civil liberty groups are also concerned that the extensive new powers granted to police by the RIP Act will go unchecked. Caspar Bowden, director of government think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), reinforced Beith's remarks in a statement.

"The official parliamentary watchdog has exposed the complaints mechanism as a sham, and a senior member has highlighted its inadequacy under the European Convention of Human Rights," he said.

Bowden also points out that the tribunal has been relatively ineffective in the past.

"All we know is that over the past fifteen years, out of six hundred complaints, the tribunal only investigated eight."

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