(Snooped from SchNews)

The Empire Bytes Back

Following closely in the giant state footprints of the Terrorism Act (see previous Networking Newsletter) comes the RIP Act (Regulation of Investigatory Powers). The RIP Bill will become law in October - another slice of Halloween horror from the Home Office.

Under new powers of the RIP Act, UK based Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be legally obliged to give police, customs and security services open access to monitor all web traffic running through their networks. Secondly, the Act will see the targeting of computer encryption users with prison sentences of 2 years (if you refuse to hand over your encryption keys to the police), and 5 years (if you tell anyone you are being monitored).

Rushed through the back door of the Lord's for a royal stamp, the RIP Act was spearheaded by Jack Straw, and dreamt up by shady New Labour think tanks well over a year ago. With Cabinet sights on fixing a large nail in the coffin of digital democracy, the planned Bill was hammered out by the Home Office's "Encryption Co-ordination Unit". And the Home Office has confirmed in a report that UK police, MI5, Special Branch and Customs should have "real time" access to web traffic, and recommended "the establishment of a Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC), operating on a 24 hour basis" to do just that.

So now, each UK ISP will be forced to install black interceptor boxes on the backbone of their networks, for redirecting Internet traffic directly to the GTAC for monitoring. Under the Internet provisions of the RIP the authorities will have an open pass to log into web sites, chat rooms and emails at their leisure.

With ISPs being forced to stick expensive black box recorders on the back of their servers, many companies are now looking at uprooting their business to overseas. The British Chamber of Commerce estimate the cost to business of enforcing the law could run to £60 million. One of the UK's largest ISP's, Claranet, is looking to move its communication technology outside the UK. And UUnet, Poptel and GreenNet are also considering hosting their network servers elsewhere.

On the brighter side here are a few pointers on a few ideas on ways to rip up the RIP for solid on-line privacy and security. If opening a new account don't go for the big corporate sites like Hotmail, Freeserve and Yahoo who are already in the process of opening their networks for police surfing. Even consider ISP's that base their operations overseas. Do use encryption and anonymous web surfing software like Pretty Good Privacy. Use free encrypted email accounts like Hushmail and Mail2Web. And for the really paranoid, rather than storing data on your hard drive stash your private bits & bytes on the Net. There are companies like Freedrive where you can store info on their sites for download at a later date.

More info: Foundation for Information Policy Research or GreenNet

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© Networking Newsletter (Sept 2000)