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August 4, 1999

ISPA Slams UK E-Commerce Bill

By CBR Staff Writer

The UK’s Internet Services Providers Association has criticized the UK government for making a mess of its recently published draft Electronic Communications Bill. ISPA says the bill is too complicated, places too much liability on ISPs and their employees, and could stall the development of e-commerce in the country.

Referring to the controversial plans to allow security services access to encryption keys, abandoned prior to publication, Tim Pearson, chair of ISPA, told ComputerWire: The government got stuck on key escrow, and does not seem to have come out of that world. They could have moved the industry along, but now they’ve missed the boat.

The bill contains 20 pages relating to law enforcement issues surrounding the interception of encrypted data, but only three on the recognition of electronic signatures in law. Proposed laws include the power of police to demand encryption keys as part of investigations. Those who are suspected of withholding keys are forced to prove they do not possess them or face stiff sentences – claimed by some to be contrary to the presumption of innocence. ISP staff will also live under the shadow of a new tipping off offence, which prevents them from revealing to customers that the police are reading their encrypted data.

Pearson reckons this is likely to cause so much controversy when the bill is read in parliament next year that crucial legislation, such as making electronic signatures legally binding, will be stalled along with the rest of it. Paraphrasing MP Derek Wyatt, Pearson told ComputerWire: It should have been a 3 page document rather than a 30 page one.

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