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[FYI] (Fwd) [NEWS] Britain plans cyber-center to spy on the Internet
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- Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 22:44:23 +0100
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Date sent: Thu, 11 May 2000 15:42:13 -0400
From: Andrew Shen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [NEWS] Britain plans cyber-center to spy on the Internet
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Britain plans cyber-center to spy on the Internet
LONDON (AP) -- To civil libertarians, it smacks of Big Brother.com.
The British government plans to set up a multimillion-dollar spy
center capable of tracking every e-mail and Internet hit in the
country -- a move it says will help fight cybercrime, but which civil
libertarians contend heralds the arrival of an Orwellian state.
The new cyber-snooping base, which will bear the unassuming title of
Government Technical Assistance Center, reportedly will be housed
within the fortress-like London headquarters of the MI5 spy agency.
It will be established as part of the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Bill, expected to become law this fall.
``We regard it as an outrageous piece of legislation,'' said Yaman
Akdeniz, director of the watchdog group Cyber-Rights and Cyber
As part of the bill, Internet service providers will have to establish
secure channels to transmit information about Internet traffic to the
The bill also gives law enforcement authorities the power to demand
that Internet users hand over the keys to decode encrypted messages.
Encryption is commonly used by business and in e-commerce transactions
to protect credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
Civil liberties groups argue the legislation sets a sinister precedent
by requiring individuals and companies to prove they cannot hand over
encryption keys or face prosecution.
``The bill creates a new offense -- not providing this information to
the government,'' Akdeniz said. ``It will be incompatible with the
European Convention on Human Rights in terms of self-incrimination and
a switch in the burden of proof.''
The legislation is wending its way through Parliament, but the
government already has established a so-called encryption coordination
unit to oversee creation of the $40 million spy center.
The government argues the bill protects individual rights, setting out
strict conditions under which law enforcement agencies can demand keys
to unlock encrypted data or intercept records of Internet traffic.
``The bill does not give the authorities any new powers to obtain
material which they cannot already do,'' said Home Office Minister
Charles Clarke, the Cabinet minister responsible for the project.
``Accusations that the bill reverses the burden of proof are simply
wrong. Innocent people are not going to suffer under these
Although authorities must obtain a warrant before demanding access to
information, critics argue the grounds for getting one are vague. In
addition, they say warrants should be issued by judges instead of by
Cabinet ministers, as provided for by the bill.
Internet service providers have expressed concerns about the cost to
the industry of complying with the new regulations -- estimated at $32
million -- and of the vagueness of the rules.
Some predict the new rules will also scare Internet users away from
encryption technology, dealing a blow to the government's stated aim
of making Britain a hotbed of e-commerce.
``Everything in the bill is a little bit undefined,'' said Roland
Perry, regulation officer for the London Internet Exchange, a grouping
of some 100 service providers.
``Who needs to sign the bits of paper, what they might be requesting
-- there's a national standard for that negotiated between industry
and law enforcement, and if we're not careful this bill might throw
all that away,'' he said.
While countries like China and Singapore monitor their citizens'
Internet use, Akdeniz says the British government's move is
unprecedented in Europe.
``Of course, the government has to improve law enforcement techniques
and adapt to information technology,'' he said. ``But that doesn't
mean they have to turn it into an Orwellian state. We are moving
toward Big Brother.''
Britain's Internet service providers already must tread more carefully
than their counterparts in some other parts of the world, including
the United States.
In March, Internet service provider Demon Internet Ltd. apologized and
agreed to pay damages in an out-of-court settlement with a man who
said he was libeled by items posted on a Web site.
The case was seen as setting a precedent that service providers could
be considered publishers and held responsible for information
transmitted on their networks.
In the United States, by contrast, the Supreme Court ruled this month
that service providers are not legally and financially liable when
someone is defamed in e-mail communications or bulletin board
On the Net:
Cyber Rights and Cyber-Liberties, http://www.cyber-rights.org
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill,
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