Press Release

17 November 1999




The big surprise in the Queen's Speech is the REGULATION OF INVESTIGATORY POWERS (R.I.P) bill (Home Office release appended below). This will update the Interception of Communications Act, regulate covert surveillance and use of informers, and provide powers to decrypt coded e-mail (in ways which are still unclear).


The controversial Part.III of the Electronic Communications Bill has been dropped, but will be recycled in some form in the new R.I.P Bill.

Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said that:

"The e-Minister (Patricia Hewitt) must be congratulated for performing a skilful political amputation to save British e-commerce. The shortened Bill still threatens unnecessary regulation, but at least now can do much less harm."


The HO press release offers tantalising hints of new thinking on civil liberties. Until today the Home Office had adamantly maintained that Part.III of the Bill created no human rights issues (see Notes below). The new statement says that the bill is needed to "strengthen the regulation of covert surveillance and other intrusive investigative techniques used by public authorities to meet the requirements of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)".

Bowden said of the previous proposals, "the glaring flaw was reversing the burden of proof on possession of a decryption key. If this remains unchanged, this government will find itself on the losing side of its own 1998 Human Rights law."

The HO Press release says that for encrypted data, law enforcement will get "specific powers to enable them to make that data intelligible".

But Bowden continued:

"The Home Office press release avoids the burden-of-proof issue with ambiguous wording. This may indicate either that the policy is in play, or that the new RIP bill will turn out to be window-dressing."

"By introducing the Bill, the government acknowledges the need for new thinking on interception and encryption. FIPR believes that strong human rights safeguards are in the best interests of law-enforcement."

Notes for Editors:

  1. FIPR is the UK's leading Internet policy think-tank: an independent non-profit organisation that studies the interaction between information technology and society. It does not represent the interests of any trade-group and its goal is to identify technical developments with significant social impact, commission research into public policy alternatives, and promote public understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in the UK and Europe. The Board of Trustees and Advisory Council (http://www.fipr.org/trac.html) comprise some of the leading experts in the UK.
  2. FIPR was the first to draw attention to human rights problems in the Draft E-Comms Bill with its press release on the day of publication (23/7/99 http://www.fipr.org/ecommpr.html)
  3. FIPR and JUSTICE substantiated these concerns in October with a Human Rights Audit of the Bill, conducted by former law-commissioner Prof.Jack Beatson QC (http://www.fipr.org/ecomm99/pr.html).
  4. The Home Office denied Human Rights contravention in a press statement of 25th October 1999 (appended below).



"A Bill will be introduced to ensure that the interception of communications, and the use or other intrusive techniques, continues to be regulated for the protection both of the rights of Individuals and of society as a whole."

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill would:

The Bill would put into effect the proposals in the consultation paper 'Interception of Communications in the United Kingdom' (CM4368). This was published on 22 June 1999.

The Bill would continue strictly to limit the occasions on which communications can be intercepted. And it would ensure that the same restrictions applied to all communications. A change in the law is necessary due to the diversification of communications technologies since the introduction of the Interception of Communications Act 1985.

The Bill would also strengthen the regulation covert surveillance and other intrusive investigative techniques used by public authorities. This would extend regulation to cover surveillance (not currently regulated by Part III of the Police Act 1997) and the use of covert human sources, including the use of agents, informants and undercover officers.

The final part of the Bill would provide for lawful access to encrypted data. This would put into effect Part III of the draft Electronic Communications Bill which was published on 23 July 1999 (CM4417). Where, for example, law enforcement has lawfully acquired encrypted material, the Bill would give them specific powers to enable them to make that data intelligible.

All three elements of the Bill would regulate techniques which are necessary for the protection of society at large but which can impact on the privacy of specific individuals. The Bill would strike a balance between these aims in accordance with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Press Office. Home Office Tel: 0171 2734610

17 November 1999


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