Why the Lords is investigating security

Q&A: Lord Broers tells us how a Lords inquiry will try to encourage the government to do more to protect the UK's Internet users
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The broadband boom and the explosion in personal computing has left home users vulnerable to a growing number of threats. Weak legislation and regulations have been blamed for not turning the tide of computer crime, and the police have been criticised by the Attorney General's office for not taking Internet fraud seriously.

Now the House of Lords is getting involved. Its Science and Technology Committee has launched an inquiry into the personal Internet security of home computer users. The committee will focus on the nature of security threats facing private individuals, the scale of the problem, and how well the public understands the nature of those threats.

The committee will also examine whether the current laws and regulatory framework concerning cybercrime and Internet services are effective.

Lord Broers, chairman of the committee, Vodafone board member, and president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, spoke with ZDNet UK to explain the thinking behind the inquiry.

Q: Why has the inquiry into personal Internet security been launched, and why now?
A: We see the situation as becoming more pertinent. More people are using the Internet for all sorts of things, and there is more online abuse. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has a reputation of investigating issues in depth. We have launched the inquiry to find out what the situation is [regarding personal Internet safety], and find things that will help government help its citizens.

How big a problem is Internet safety?
It's serious enough to launch an inquiry, but we will find out how serious a problem it is. We want to understand the problem, and explain what people should be looking out for. We also want to help law enforcement agencies prosecute people.

Do you think the existing legislation is strong enough to help the authorities deal with computer crime?
We will be looking at how effective the legislation is concerning cybercrime, but we'll wait before developing any thoughts.

The Committee issued a call to evidence for concerned parties. Who do you expect to be hearing from?
We will be hearing from various people, but we haven't drawn up a list yet. We will be talking to people across the spectrum, including Internet service providers and law enforcement groups.

There is also an educational aspect to personal Internet security. Will you be talking to computer security awareness raising Web sites like Get Safe Online?
We may talk to Get Safe Online, I can't say yet.

What's the timescale for the report, if the deadline for written evidence is 23 October?
The Lords reconvenes on 9 October, and we will be having a meeting and get down to [the inquiry] straight away. We will assess all of the evidence, and then write up the findings in the late spring. The final report will be out in March or April next year.

You have extensive experience in IT through working for IBM and your position on the Vodafone board. Will you be examining mobile security?
We will be looking at personal mobile security. Mobility technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth add new elements which potentially make personal security more difficult.

Is personal security becoming more difficult?
The problem is increasing day by day.

If the problem is getting worse, who is accountable? Has the IT industry failed up to this point, or the government?
The government hasn't failed, but I quite expect us to find reasons to urge the government to get on and do something. We feel the problem is getting serious.

Do you have any thoughts about what you will be urging the government to do?
We will make recommendations so individuals can get help in making their dealings over the Net more secure.

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