Wiretapping may cost ISPs £17m - report

The RIP Bill has never been popular, the latest government-sponsored report looks set to compound the problem

Wiretapping the Internet -- in accordance with the government's controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill -- will cost Britain's 400 ISPs at least £17m in the first year, with the total cost to both ISPs and the government rising to around £30m according to a report published Thursday.

Commissioned by the government, the Smith Report, entitled "Technical and Cost Issues Associated With Interception of Communications at Certain Communication Service Providers" outlines three possible ways ISPs could intercept email communications to meet the protocols laid out in the RIP Bill.

Government policy think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) judges this to be a conservative estimate and suggests ISPs could end up forking out around £20m with the cost to Britain's economy escalating to as much as £34m.

Caspar Bowden, Director of FIPR says in a statement: "The Government has been telling us for weeks that the million pound price-tags put on interception were just scare-mongering. Now their own consultants think it will be more than £30m and that's only the beginning before the next wave of broadband e-commerce is rolled out in 2001, with 3rd generation mobile Internet (UMTS) following in 2002."

Responding to Bowden's concerns, a Home Office spokesman points out that the report is by no means indisputable. "This is an independent report to better inform our discussions with the ISP industry," he says.

He adds that the Home Office will continue its dialogue with ISPs in order, "to determine what interception capabilities ISPs should enable and where the burden of cost should lie. It's still very much open to discussion."

In related news, the Internet Service Provider?s Association (ISPA) last week sent an open letter to Alex Allan, the E-Envoy, expressing its serious concerns about the role of ISPs in providing the interception facilities required by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill.

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