Poptel, a British ISP which counts the Trades Union Congress TUC) among its customers, is threatening to move abroad, unless the Government ditches email snooping rights introduced through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill.
Poptel, a not-for-profit business, reckons that the RIP Bill could be a contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights. This will certainly give opponents another point of attack, once the Government steamrollers the bill through Parliament.
Poptel chairman Shaun Fensom is against the RIP bill on principle. But he is also concerned with the practical implications for its customers, many of which are trade unions and non-governmental organisations, which may "legitimately come into conflict with the Government", Silicon.com reports him saying
If the government doesn't change his mind, he added, "we will have no alternative but to actively look at moving some of our services overseas".
Where could Poptel move to? Ireland looks like as good as place as any - not too far away, shared language and, crucially, a much more favourable Internet regulatory regime in place.
It looks like Poptel has the support of its customers, most importantly from the TUC. And where the TUC leads, the member unions could follow. The Transport and General Workers Union has already indicated that it will take this step. A spokesman told Silicon.com: "We would certainly want to be assured that in legitimate industrial disputes this would not infringe on the civil liberties of the union."
But will other ISPs or ecommerce companies also threaten to up sticks and move overseas? Poptel is, after all, a political beast, as much as it is a (not-for-profit) commercial entity. We can't see too many ISPs following Poptel's suit - publicly.
Last month, home secretary Jack Straw ridiculed an LSE survey which claimed the UK could soon find itself losing £46 billion a year in revenues because of the RIP Bill.
Some of the assumptions may indeed have been cock-eyed. But there is a core of truth: footloose Internet companies will set up in countries offering the lightest regulatory touch. And Britain plc will suffer for the cavalier attitude to civil liberties displayed by its government. ®