8th February 2001
The RIP Act can require internet companies to fit a black box to relay data direct to the MI5 building. Trawling warrants compel them to deliver all communications to GCHQ's super-computers, which for the first time can be used domestically against peaceful groups committing trivial offences.
Even if you are not suspected of any crime, failure to disclose a computer password to any public authority means two years jail. Lifetime gagging orders to protect "investigative methods generally" can prohibit public protest, on pain of a further five years. The only redress is from a complaints tribunal that can hear secret evidence that cannot be cross-examined.
FIPR's analysis stimulated debate and led to amendment of a clause which would imprison those who could not prove they had forgotten a password. We closed a loophole that allowed casual surveillance of web surfing without a warrant ("Big Browser"). But the government still steam-rollered RIP into law, against reason and ridicule from left, right and centre.
I don't know how much John Carr understands about the technology (Microsoft's Money, Jan 2001). He took credit for Millbank's rapid-rebuttal computer system, and has argued that the web can and should be censored, although he probably realises that is unenforceable even if encryption were banned. FIPR is independent and politically neutral, and wants effective, proportionate, and accountable cyber-policing. Others can judge whether, in calling RIP's opponents "libertarian", Mr.Carr told us more than he intended about his own beliefs.
Director, Foundation for Information Policy Research