Oliver Heald, Conservative MP for NE Herts, is one of the fiercest opponents of the government's proposed Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill. In an interview with The Register, he explains which main aspects have still to be resolved with less than six months before the proposed Act is expected to be passed.
Around 190 amendments had been put forward for the RIP Bill by the time it reached the end of its Committee Stage in the first week of April, half of which were tabled by the Tories. And although Charles Clarke, Minister of State at the Home Office, has backed down on certain proposals, Heald argues that too few concessions have been made.
"Before Clarke says what the Act will be, he should consult with the people who use the Net. But he has refused to consult Internet groups," said Heald, who is pressing for a technical board including industry and Oftel representatives to discuss the implications of the Bill.
According to Heald, there are major points on technical implementation, communications data and human rights which still need to be addressed, and time is running out.
Costs to ISPs
First, the details surrounding the condition that ISPs with traffic in the UK will have to be fitted with interception devices are still hazy. Clarke has confirmed that the taxpayer will have to partly contribute to the costs, but ISPs have still not been told how much they will have to pay.
Things have also been left too late on the technical side.
"The Government have rushed into this without sorting out the technical details. They haven't listened to the industry when they said that there was no technical solution available for intercepting Internet traffic. It was only in January this year that they put this out to consultants to look at it. We are still waiting for their report on this and we've finished the committee stage already," said Heald.
The requirement of ISPs to provide communications data is also still a concern. Clarke has given way slightly and agreed that companies will only have to produce data when it is "reasonably practicable".
According to Heald, this means: "If there's an absolutely disproportionate effort required to get it, companies won't have to give information. But there's still quite a lot to be done on that. The powers there are still too wide… The list of authorities with these powers is endless."
But Clarke has "dug his heels in" and refused to back down over one of the most controversial parts of the Bill for civil rights groups. Under Section 49 of the Bill, the government will have the right to demand encryption keys and jail anyone who fails to comply. This would make any individual unable to provide their key guilty until they could prove their innocence.
"An innocent person would have a real battle to clear their name, yet a criminal would rather take the two years in prison… We've tried to turn this round, and to say that the prosecution would have to prove a person had a guilty intention. And that if you are a known criminal they can use your previous conviction, or other evidence found at the scene."
"We're continuing the battle. I've put down the new clause again," said Heald.
"I've made it very clear to Charles Clarke that unless we get some more concessions on issues to do with the technical aspects, and changes to clause 49, and if we don't see some real concessions from him there's every chance we'll oppose it at the third reading."
Basically, the government is trying to rush the Bill through Parliament by October, yet there are still many questions which have not been answered and a raft of concerns – too many to mention here -over how the proposed Act will affect Web users.
"We're not against the principles of this Bill, but it's all got to be done in a far more sensitive way and better targeted...and not damage an important industry.
"The Minister is probably very well intentioned, but our job is to make sure that we don't give powers that are beyond what's needed. And that's where this particular Bill is wrong in so many ways," said Heald. ®
Comments on the RIP Bill can be emailed to the Conservatives at firstname.lastname@example.org .