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UK internet snooping law passed - so now what?

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/07/31

The UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) bill is now law. Those who have been campaigning against it, breathless at the government's arrogance in ignoring their pleas and ploughing ahead anyway, are now re-grouping for a concerted campaign to counter what they call government "propaganda".

Campaign group Privacy International has announced plans for a new anti-RIP campaign that will make the fierce debates in the House of Lords seem "like a picnic" in comparison.

Director Simon Davies said:

This legislation will devastate British e-commerce. It will undermine confidence in the Internet and force investment off-shore.

The government has assured parliament that the bill has achieved the right balance, and yet even the most compliant business groups continue to express concern about the legislation.

Despite all the protests, the bill gained Royal Assent (the signature of the Queen, needed to put the final seal on all UK Acts of Parliament) last week - much earlier than anticipated. It was thought that Assent would not be granted until after the summer break.

The question for UK-based internet users, be they casual web surfers, online professionals, or investors in internet-based businesses, is what on earth should they do now?

So far the most vocal campaigners have been those at the Foundation for Information Policy Research, but in an interview for WriteTheWeb, director Caspar Bowden said FIPR would not be leading a continued campaign.

He said:

The RIP bill is the poll tax of the internet. We at the FIPR have done some very aggressive briefing in the last year to get this issue in the public eye, which we have achieved.

We are going to move on to other issues, but the campaigning will continue, thanks to groups like Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties and Privacy International. There's no possibility of the fuss dying down.

Every time the government tries to use these powers, there will be outcry that will reverberate around the internet.

And as FIPR found out when it tried to educate Members of Parliament on these issues, it will be some time before people unversed in the finer complexities of encryption and privacy policy - in other words, the vast majority of the internet using public - understand quite what the implications of RIP are for them.

Only when there is massive public outcry - something that reaches the tabloid press - will the government really appreciate that it has done something drastically wrong.

Which all suggests that a continued campaign, one which generates as much media coverage as FIPR managed to generate, sounds like a good idea.