LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Civil liberties indissoluble from prosperity of e-commerce
84% match; Financial Times ; 22-Jun-2000 12:00:00 am ; 333 words
By CASPAR BOWDEN
From Mr Caspar Bowden.
Sir, The home secretary's attack (Letters, June 19) on your criticism of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill suggests he has has not read his own legislation.
He wrote that "no government official, in any circumstances, has the power . . . todemand communications data". The bill designates officials (S.24(2)) in 28 public authorities (so far) who can authorise themselves to obtain not only billing and traffic data, but perhaps also the "clickstreams" which determine the content of a web-surfing session.
The government was asked directly in the House of Lords on Monday whether it would be lawful to use "black-boxes" at ISPs to spy on web-surfing behaviour in this way without a warrant. They could not deny it, and moreover accepted that the definition of "communications data", on which much of RIP's structure depends, was "inadequate" and needed to be completely rewritten by report stage. Even when pressed they would not say whether a judicial warrant for each case will be needed to track websites visited.
He also claimed that the G8, the OECD, and the EU Justices and Home Affairs (JHA) Council all "agree on the need" for access to encryption keys. In fact the OECD rejected mandatory government access to keys in its 1997 guidelines and we know of no document from JHA or G8 which explicitly goes further.
RIP still contains a quite general power to demand long-term keys to information "likely to" come into the possession of any public authority (S.46(2)b.ii) - for reasons of national security, economic well-being or minor crime (S.46(3)), with a discretionary secrecy condition. Home Office assurances that plaintext rather than keys will suffice, except in the "special" case of S.49 notices served against suspects, are irrelevant for future data.
The government still maintains that asking an innocent person to prove they have forgotten a password does not amount to a presumption of guilt. However Lord Bassam recently chose to rectify a less severe reverse-burden in the Terrorism bill. Unless he can persuade the Lords next week that there is no inconsistency here, another foundation of RIP will shatter. Real progress will not be made until government recognises that respect for civil liberties is indissoluble from the prosperity of e-commerce.
Caspar Bowden, Director, Foundation for Information Policy Research (www.fipr.org), 9 Stavordale Road, London N5 1NE
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