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"THE EMPIRE BYTES BACK"
from SchNEWS, FRIDAY 4th August, 2000
Following closely in the giant state footprints of the Terrorism Act comes the RIP Act (Regulation of Investigatory Powers). Last Friday the RIP Bill was signed by royal assent, and will become law in October - another futurist slice of Halloween horror from the Home Office.
From D-Day in October, under new powers of the RIP Act, the effect will be triple whammy. Firstly, UK based Internet Service Providers (ISP's)* 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).
And finally, the Act includes extra wide-boy ranging powers to plant Big Brother bugs and parabolic microphones wherever the sun might not shine - in the name of 'national security' and combating 'organised crime'.
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'.
The ECU was established last year to look at ways of expanding traditional state monitoring of phone networks into the world of Internet communications. And the Home Office confirmed in a 'Performance and Innovations Unit' report from May 1999 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.
Each UK ISP will be forced to install black interceptor boxes on the backbone of their networks, for redirecting Internet traffic directly to the Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC) for monitoring. And this GTAC facility will be handily housed in MI5 headquarters in London.
Under the Internet provisions of the RIP the authorities will have an open pass to log into web sites, chat rooms and e-mail boxes at their leisure. The last recorded number of phone tap warrants issued by the Home Office under the Interception of Communication Act in 1996-97 was 2,700, which was a massive increase on the last official figures.
But under the RIP to monitor one person's web communications you have to plug into and filter all web traffic running through one individual's ISP. So virtually anyone's e-mail will be available to be monitored.
With Internet Service Providers being forced to stick expensive black box Internet flight recorders on the back of their communication servers, many companies are now looking at uprooting their business and moving overseas.
The British Chamber of Commerce estimate the cost to business of enforcing the law could run to over £60 million. One of the UK's largest ISP's, Claranet (350,000 users), is looking to move its communication technology outside the UK. And UUnet, Poptel, the Co-operative Internet Service Provider, and GreenNet are also considering the prospect of hosting their network servers elsewhere in Europe.
The wider impact of the RIP Act in other areas is clear. Take the recent David Shayler (ex MI5 whistle blower) case earlier this month. The High Court rejected MI5 efforts to prosecute a Guardian journalist under the Official Secrets Act and force the newspaper to disclose e-mails sent between the journalist and Shayler.
But under the RIP this case might have been a different story, as police and security services will be able to apply for Home Office warrants behind the scenes. As journalist Roy Greenslade commented - "from this day on, without our knowledge, the authorities can intercept our messages.
They will know who said what to whom about what well before the information can be published. Indeed, by having that knowledge in advance they may well be able to take measures to prevent its publication".
RIP IT UP!
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.
a.. Be careful when choosing your ISP and e-mail account. The big corporate sites like Microsoft (Hotmail), Freeserve (Fsnet) and Yahoo UK (Yahoo Mail) that are already in the process of opening their networks for police 'real time' surfing tracking should be avoided.
b.. Look at ISP's that base their operations overseas, or smaller UK web server companies that are more likely to slip through the government fish net. Make sure they are not part of the multinational Internet oligarchy.
c.. Do use encryption and anonymous web surfing software like Freedom (www.zeroknowledge.com) or Pretty Good Privacy (www.pgp.com). Use free encrypted e-mail accounts like Hushmail, Messager and Mail2Web (www.hushmail .com, www.messagerx.com and www.mail2web.com)
d.. Rather than storing data on your hard drive (which under the RIP can be accessed under warrant by MI5 or police) stash your private bit's and pieces on the Net. There are companies like Freedrive (www. freedrive.com) where you can store info on their sites for download at a later date. More info: Foundation for Information Policy Research www.fipr.org/rip/ Green Net - www.gn.apc.org
SCHNEWS NET-NERD VOCAB WATCH
ISP's are the first telephone network port of call for anyone surfing the web, sending e-mails or using chat rooms - Freeserve, Excite, MSN, UK On-line etc.
** Encryption is the scrambling of data (sent by e-mail or hosted on a web site) to stop anyone other than the intended receiver from reading it
Human Rights in UK (Guardian)
Government sweeps aside privacy rights (Guardian 11.Jun.02)
British liberty, RIP (11.Jun.02)
RIP bill passed (31.July.02)
Warning over wiretaps (22.08.01 BBC)
New bill promises email tapping (25.May.00)
MI5 builds new centre to read net emails (30.Apr.00)
The Three Minute Guide to RIP (12.Mar.00)
For more info on the RIP Bill:
RIP Info Centre
RIP Act (Home Office)
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