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5 years ago... UK police and ISPs debate legal access to email

We still have moved on a great deal...
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor on

We still have moved on a great deal...

18.09.98: Police and Internet service providers (ISP) in the UK have started working together to combat crime on the Internet. Private seminars held behind closed doors later this month aim to identify which electronic evidence could - and should - be made available to police investigating a crime. Detective chief superintendent Keith Akerman, chair of the Computer Crime Group set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said: "We aim to cover all crimes. We will publish working guidelines on how evidence is gathered, its integrity, and its presentation in court." The actual content of emails is expected to remain private, in all circumstances, in line with Akerman's statement that the new guidelines will follow the Data Protection Act's existing laws for telephone operators. Those laws state that police may access details of the timing of a phone call, and who participated, but not the content of the call. "Content is not at issue here," Akerman added. He also said that even if someone received an email from a criminal, it did not prove that they knew him or her. "The link between email addresses and real people is too tenuous to stand up in court," he said. "It could, however, be useful information." But even tracing the destination of an email is harder than tracking a phone call. Tim Pearson, on behalf of the Internet Service Providers Association, said: "The only call logged is the one between a user and their local ISP - not the recipient of the email." 18.09.03: This situation is still largely unresolved. The ISPs have remained between a rock and a hard place over the protection of their users' civil liberties and their desire to be seen to be co-operating with criminal investigations. Privacy campaigners have also fought to protect the principal of unmonitored communications - even if it has some obvious benefits. The emotive issue of child pornography and internet 'grooming' represented the biggest headache for ISPs. While they would never wish to be seen to be condoning such crimes, they risked a serious backlash if they were to implement the more wide-ranging surveillance and monitoring measures which would have been required. The majority of users, innocent of any crime, would argue that they were being tarred with the same brush. Accusation of a 'Big Brother' society are never far away. To prove it is still an ongoing debate, earlier this week the government announced it had made a number of further concession to public pressure relating to the use of RIPA powers.
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