Cops in your computer

From "Robert Kemp" <>
Date Wed, 29 Sep 1999 14:33:10 EDT

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----Original Message Follows----
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: (en) Cops in your computer
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 22:38:41 -0500 (CDT)

       A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

When the Internet first erupted into the mainstream a few years ago, it as
hailed as one of the greatest liberating forces of all time. Dewy-eyed
commentators claimed it would be as important as the printing pess. People
would be free - wherever they lived in the world - to say what they
thought, whenever they liked. We would all become the online press barons
for an emerging global village.

Along with the freedom of the Internet came unparalleled business
opportunities. Britain, which largely missed out on the new industries of
the late twentieth century, could be a leader in the twenty first.
Britainıs greatest strengths - the media, software, finance and
international trade - could all be welded together to establish the country
as the dominant commercial centre for the twenty first century.

But now the Government is in the process of destroying these dreams so that
the police and secret services can keep a closer watch on all of us. Buried
deep inside the draft Electronic Communications Bill, which is designed to
prepare Britain for a future based on electronic commerce, are a series of
clauses that many experts say are the biggest single assault on our rights
in fifty years.

If the Bill is passed, the police and secret services will be free to tap
peopleıs emails with virtually no judicial oversight. They will be able to
- in effect - write their own warrants and search home computers for
anything interesting or useful. If, for example, you have encrypted data or
email on your computer, then the police will have the right to demand the
password unlocking them. If you refuse, or have forgotten it (and who
hasnıt forgotten a password or bank PIN number!) then you face
two years in jail. To be imprisoned, the police have to do nothing. It is
up to you to prove your innocence - reversing the usual ³innocent until
proven guilty² principle of law.

The police will also be able to issue gagging orders - preventing you from
telling a soul that your home has been raided. Again, there is virtually no
judicial oversight. If you do let on, then you face five years in jail.
This gagging order also extends to any complaint which you may make about
abuses of power by the police or security services.If you do have a
complaint, then your concerns will be heard by a secret tribunal - sitting
without a jury - and the evidence can be submitted behind your back.
Cross-examination, and therefore a fair defence, will be impossible.

Nor are the new powers limited to suspected criminals: they apply to all of
us. The police will be allowed to raid the homes and workplaces of a
suspectsı friends, family and business associates. If they are unable to
co-operate and prove their innocence, then prison beckons. Any specific
complaint about the police will be dealt with by a secret tribunal.
Gagging orders could well be used to stifle any unwelcome press

The new powers will dovetail nicely with the Echelon Project, which
scoops-up and analyses every satellite borne e-mail, fax and telephone
conversation in Europe. Run jointly by the US and British security forces,
Echelon has become so omnipresent that it has begun to rattle the European
Parliamentıs civil liberties committee. It fears that the Echelon Project
is starting to erode our most basic rights. Civil liberties groups fear
that Echelon could be used to identify people sending coded  (or encrypted)
emails. The new police powers would then be used to investigate these
people further. In effect, they claim, it could be a building block for a
police state.

It could be argued that anyone sending encrypted emails was up to no good
and that the police should keep an eye on them. It is no different,it could
be argued, than the police taking an interest in someone wandering the dark
alleys of Brixton wearing a balaclava.

But with the Internet, things are different. Business routinely uses
encryption to protect its secrets and commercial transactions. If you have
ever bought anything over the Internet, the chances are, your credit card
details were encrypted too. The trouble is, once encrypted,the blueprints
for an atom bomb are indistinguishable from an online order for War and
Peace through

These worries have set alarm bells ringing across British
industry.Unwittingly, the companies at the forefront of Britainıs
e-commerce revolution could find themselves the focus of a major criminal
investigation with no way of defending themselves. They could be forced to
reveal commercial secrets to people they may not trust. As a consequence,
many are threatening to site their companies offshore. Why risk their money
and liberty when they can just as easily serve the British market from
Ireland, America or New Zealand?

Not only do the proposed powers risk killing off a vibrant part of the
economy, as far as serious crime is concerned, they will be stillborn.
Already, anonymous military-grade encryption is available throughHushmail.
Based overseas, this allows anybody to send and receive scrambled email
through any cybercafe in the world. Itıs also relatively easy to hide
encrypted information inside innocuous looking pictures and data.

Today, Patricia Hewitt, a minister at the DTI, will try to reassure
Britainıs e-commerce industry at the Scrambling for Safety conference.She
faces a tough task. Undoubtedly, she will argue that the state has a duty
to protect us all from terrorists, paedophiles and drug runners.
Few will argue with that. But is it really worth killing off Britainıs
e-commerce revolution and eroding our civil rights for laws that serious
criminals will easily avoid?
* i-Contact Video Network, Video for Positive change         *
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* "In the Thames Valley, it seems that journalists covering  *
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* "I used to think there was nothing worse than seeing a     *
* good story killed because the special interest of a news   *
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* worse"                                                     *

		The A-Infos News Service

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