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United Kingdom

The regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: RIP?Landwell, London

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill commenced its parliamentary passage on February 9 2000, received royal assent at the end of July and will begin to take effect in October. This controversial piece of legislation sets out the procedure under which the government and other authorities can gain unprecedented access to business information by monitoring and intercepting email and internet traffic, as well as more traditional forms of communication. The new regime will cover all telecommunications networks and therefore will impact directly on UK businesses. Breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 can incur criminal penalties.

Business consequences

Although the object of the Act is to protect national security, critics claim that it could also damage UK industry. They maintain that the Act affects the ability of companies to carry out their business activities without the constant threat of reprisal from Big Brother. Aside from civil libertarian arguments, business leaders have highlighted the following legal provisions as two main areas of concern for corporate Britain:

Cryptography. Pursuant to Part III of the Act, the release of "keys" to electronically encrypted material can be required, among other instances, in the interests of economic well-being. This poses the risk of undermining customer confidence in encryption transactions and encryption products since security cannot be guaranteed. It is possible that such a power will deter inward investment into the UK and that UK companies themselves will be driven offshore in the search for more attractive jurisdictions in which to conduct their business. The cost to the UK in terms of lost revenue could be considerable.

ISP interception. Pursuant to Part I of the Act, UK internet service providers (ISPs) may be served notice to install interception devices known as "black boxes" as part of the government interception framework. The estimated financial implications of the responsibility for ISPs are vast. Although the government has agreed to contribute some funds towards implementation costs, the purchase, installation and maintenance of expensive tapping equipment to meet this obligation may force some ISPs out of business and may prove a barrier to some setting up in business in the first place. Moreover, ISPs may also find that as a result they are not sufficiently cash-rich to direct funds towards developing new technology for the future.

The UK is one of the first countries to introduce such legislation. No other G8 country has plans to introduce similar legislation.

Stephanie Hepburn

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