Nation & World : Thursday, May 11, 2000
Britain plans massive online surveillance
by Jill Lawless
The Associated Press
LONDON - The British government plans to set up a multimillion-dollar spy
center capable of tracking every e-mail and Internet hit in the country - a
move it says will help fight cybercrime, but which civil libertarians
contend heralds the arrival of an Orwellian state.
The new cyber-snooping base, which will bear the unassuming title of
Government Technical Assistance Center, reportedly will be housed within the
fortress-like London headquarters of the MI5 spy agency.
It will be established as part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers
Bill, expected to become law this fall.
"We regard it as an outrageous piece of legislation," said Yaman Akdeniz,
director of the watchdog group Cyber-Rights and Cyber Liberties.
Internet service providers would have to establish secure channels to
transmit information about Internet traffic to the government cybercenter.
The bill also lets law enforcement demand that Internet users hand over the
keys to decode encrypted messages. Encryption is commonly used by business
and in e-commerce transactions to protect credit-card numbers and other
The legislation is working through Parliament, but the government already
has established a so-called encryption-coordination unit to oversee creation
of the $40 million spy center.
The government argues the bill protects individual rights, setting out
strict conditions under which law-enforcement agencies can demand keys to
unlock encrypted data or intercept records of Internet traffic.
"The bill does not give the authorities any new powers to obtain material
which they cannot already do," said Home Office Minister Charles Clarke, the
Cabinet minister responsible for the project.
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