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Tapping the Net

The complete hands-off approach to Net security that you advocate in your Editorial of 17 June (p 3) is not an option for this government or any other. It cannot be right for criminals to abuse new communications technologies with impunity because existing statutory powers are deficient. We recognise that in updating the law in this area, we have a responsibility to weigh up issues of individual rights, the interests of business and of those charged with keeping society safe from crime. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill--which received the Royal Assent on 28 July and is now the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)--is a reflection of this.

You castigate the government for being supposedly ignorant of technological developments. I do not accept this. We know that the spread of the Internet means that governments and law enforcement agencies are operating in a technological environment wholly different from what has gone on before. RIPA is not about controlling the Internet. It is all about helping to ensure that vital law enforcement powers are not undermined critically as a result of rising criminal use of new technologies.

RIPA has given rise to a number of myths. You assert, as fact, that it "forces all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install connections to the security services". This is wrong--the act does no such thing. As we have explained, a fraction of ISPs may be required to maintain an intercept capability. But the act ensures that this can only happen after consultation with individual ISPs on the precise terms of that requirement. We are discussing these with the relevant players across the industry.

We have set aside 20 million over three years from April 2001 to ease the introduction of the new arrangements. And RIPA provides for the establishment of a Technical Advisory Board, comprising a balance of government and industry members, to oversee notices served on communications service providers requiring the maintenance of an intercept capability.

We recognise, though, that laws are not enough. Your Editorial and a later news article (29 July, p 4) imply that we believe they are. But you ignore the wider picture. We are aware of the technical challenges put forward by some commentators on RIPA, and others besides. We have never pretended that the act represents the answer to all law enforcement's problems.

The harsh reality, which we have accepted, is that rising criminal use of new technologies means that law enforcement is going to take a hit. We recognise that there are no simple answers. That is why we have proposed a package of measures to help, including the provision of 25 million to establish a dedicated technical resource and, crucially, a recognition of the need to forge a greater cooperative relationship with industry.

RIPA is an important measure. We take seriously our responsibility of ensuring that Britain remains a safe place for everyone to live and work in.

Charles Clarke
Home Office, London

 



From New Scientist magazine, 07 October 2000.



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