13 July 2000 | Cathy Hayward
Changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill do not go far enough, according to the Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB).
Nick Hickson, head of the e-business group at the Confederation of British Industry, which is a member of the AEB, welcomed the amendments as a boost to business confidence, but called on the government to go further.
"We would like to see all legitimate businesses excluded from the need to supply encryption keys and for the Home Office to pay for the interception equipment," he said.
Under the bill, the police will be able to force companies to hand over encryption keys for reading electronic documents as part of criminal investigations. The details are still being debated in the House of Lords and business leaders have expressed concerns about potential breaches of confidentiality.
The key concessions that the government has announced are that hard copies of documents will usually be acceptable instead of the encryption keys and company directors will be informed of the investigation, in addition to the keyholder.
Although the bill would be less damaging to supplier relationships with these changes, breach of confidence remains an issue, said Dick Jennings, partner at legal firm Ford & Warren and member of CIPS's legal committee.
"It's a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation," he said. "You'll be in breach of contract if you fail to warn your suppliers about an investigation and may be liable for damages, but if you tip them off you're committing a criminal offence.
"The government has not taken business's feedback seriously. These concessions are very much last-minute, with one hand tied behind the back."