In an open letter to the home secretary Jack Straw, David Taylor asks for clarification of some disturbing implications of the RIP Act.
Dear Mr Straw,
I write to ask you some questions about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act. I simply seek to understand the Government's reasoning behind something that seems, on the face of it, at complete odds to your oft-stated policy to make Britain "the most e-friendly country in the world".
I am sure that I have got this wrong, or at least am simply confused. No doubt you will be able to help me by answering the following, which you will have also received by post and, of course, via e-mail, today.
Is it true that every UK Internet Service Provider (ISP) will have to monitor all data traffic passing through its computers? Will that not put them at a commercial disadvantage to their competitors, just for being based in the UK?
I understand that there is a special centre being installed at MI5's London headquarters, to access all e-mail traffic. While I appreciate that MI5 will need a warrant to read an e-mail, are you aware that the technology is very different from, say, tapping a telephone? This will mean that MI5 staff will have unregulated access to logs of the Web sites we access, which discussion groups we belong to and addresses of all those with whom we correspond.
How do you feel this equates with the European Convention's requirements about privacy? I ask this in particular because Section 46 of Part III of the Act gives you the power to order the surrender of keys used to encrypt communication data.
I recently read that people who have lost or forgotten their key will have to prove in a court of law that they have done this - in other words they will be presumed guilty until proved innocent. Perhaps you could advise me, in general terms, how I could prove that I have forgotten something?
How widely has the Government made the business, IT and general community aware of this Act and its implications?
How does the Act compare with other countries around the world, in particular the US and Ireland, where many ISPs are likely to move?
You will be aware that this Act is widely opposed in the UK business community. Of course, I realise that there is a need to prevent and expose terrorist, paedophile and illegal activity, in all walks of life, however, is such a blanket of surveillance really going to achieve this?
Control, regulation and law surrounding the Internet is a difficult issue, and I am sure the principles behind the RIP Act are honourable. Therefore, when you reply to the above questions, I will ensure that your answers are published in full.
I very much hope your response will reassure me that this Act is a useful one that will indeed achieve its objectives, and that its opponents are wrong to say that it threatens the very future, freedom and success of UK plc.
David Taylor's Inside Track. A provocative insight into the world of IT in business, is out now. The book is the latest in the Computer Weekly Professional Series, published by ButterworthHeinemann: 01865-888180