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.