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UK Home Office Excludes Consumer Groups from Internet Interception Law Debate

Posted: 27th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
internet lawphorm uk logoThe Home Office, a UK government department for immigration and policing, has refused to meet with "civil society groups" to discuss its planned changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) with regards to internet privacy law.

Ironically the proposed changes have come about as a direct result of EU pressure. This in turn stemmed from consumer concern after broadband ISP BT was caught using Phorm technology to monitor customers private online activity without their consent (more history).

In a letter to the Open Rights Group (ORG) the Home Office claimed that Civil Society Groups, which have been representing consumers throughout most of the recent debates, would not be directly "concerned" or "affected" by their proposed changes. Furthermore they then proceed to blame the EU for their exclusion.

The Home Office Letter (Extract)

As you will note in the consultation we have undertaken to make changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to remedy defects in the way in which the E-Privacy and Data Protection Directives were transposed into UK law. The proposed changes do not alter the principles of the Directives in question and consultation took place when those Directives were originally transposed into UK law, albeit defectively, as we now recognise. Consequently, we are carrying out a short, targeted consultation.

We are focusing on those parties directly affected by the changes to the extent that those parties would be subject to the civil sanction or directly concerned with it, or are directly responsible, where lawful interception is taking place, for ensuring that consent has been obtained to the interception. There is a clear distinction between changes we are enjoined to make, having agreed to do so, and changes, for example, which are being proposed for the E-Privacy Directive on which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are consulting. Notwithstanding that we decided, in the interests of transparency, to publish the consultation on the Home Office’s website.

Given the need to amend legislation rapidly and having been referred to the European Court of Justice the consultation period is necessarily short, and consequently it is not possible to meet every party that shows an interest in this subject. In the limited time we have we are focussing our face to face engagement on those parties to whom we sent our consultation directly, which does not include civil society groups. We would of course welcome any official response that you would like to make to the consultation.

At present the governments consultation is due to complete on 17th December 2010, which is at least an improvement on their original timeframe (7th December 2010). Naturally not everybody is happy.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group (ORG), said:

"On other words, the many thousands of people who have been adversely affected by illegal interception, and those who seek to stand up for their rights, are not “directly concerned” according to the Home Office.

This is an outrageous position to take. Industry will never be prime the victim of interception: citizens stand to lose hugely from weak or inadequate protection."

The actual amendments look more promising, although many people remain concerned that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) would not have enough clout to enforce them effectively.
The RIPA Amendments Consultation
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/consultations/ripa-effect-lawful-intercep/
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