Montréal, 1er avril 2000  /  No 59
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          That familiar acronym now has a totally different meaning in Cool Britannia, where it means Regulatory Investigatory Powers. Before explaining further what this latest assault on freedom and liberty entails I would like to return to an article I wrote some time ago, an article which appeared in issue No. 39 under the title of Corpus Juris.
          It will be recalled that Corpus Juris is the stealthy introduction into the United Kingdom of European concepts of law and justice which would displace the age old Common Law, Habeas Corpus, Trial by Jury and Double Jeopardy. Guilty until proven innocent being a phrase which so elegantly encapsulates the difference between the two systems of justice. The New Labour government said recently that it is « vowing to keep the veto », a veto it has maintained over EU legislation it dislikes since they joined the EU when it was known under another acronym. What was very sinister though was that there was no mention of « Justice & Home Affairs » among the veto items they will keep. Once the J & HA veto is gone, they will be able to force adoption of Corpus Juris whenever they choose. 
          It will also be recalled that various UK government spokesmen of those times spoke in placatory tones stating successively that CJ didn't exist, admitting that it exists but saying that it doesn't matter, then finally saying that it does matter but it will never happen. I suggested at that time that it may well happen and that the politicians will then say that there is nothing they can do about it. 
A serious ommission 
          It occurred to me recently that the ommission of any mention of J & HA from the veto list and the introduction of the RIP Bill are simply the two latest steps in creating the conditions under which Corpus Juris can be introduced and defended by saying that it doesn't matter because we no longer have Trial by Jury or Double Jeopardy anyway. Followers of the actions of Mr Blair and his acolyte Jack Straw will no doubt be aware that Mr Straw recently introduced a bill covering what he was pleased to describe as « middle ranking offences ». A bill which would deprive the accused person (for offences such as shoplifting, theft and some assaults) of the right to trial by judge and jury. The recently emasculated House of Lords threw it out and so the eager Mr Straw had to reintroduce it and, at the same time, face down a mutiny by his own backbenchers who found it unacceptable. 
          The RIP Bill went before a Select Committee on March 14 and in about six months could well become the law of the land. The preamble to the bill says it all: 
          A Bill to make provision for and about the interception of communications, the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the carrying out of surveillance, the use of covert human intelligence sources and the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected by encryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed; to provide for the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to entries on and interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy and to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; and for connected purposes. 
          Many may consider this bill, with its implications for cracking down on terrorism, sexual perverts, criminals and the like, as no bad thing. It will however effect considerable change in the way the Internet works because among the novelties introduced are, without specifying exactly how they will do this, an obligation for all Internet Service Providers to log and monitor all the online activities of their users. Even though there is some loose talk about the government reimbursing the ISPs for the hardware costs involved, no provision seems to have been made to deal with the gigantic increase in overheads that all this will undoubtedly require. 
          Another serious question is just what will fall within the ambit of the phrase « telecommunications service »? Mobile telephones, news-servers, ISPs, WAP service providers (Wireless Application Protocol, a standard for accessing Internet services through a mobile phone), Internet gateways and, potentially, operators of Web applications like Hotmail? It is quite a broad definition; probably deliberately so. An additional feature is that all the employees of these companies will be compelled to keep secret, in perpetuity, any surveillance they conduct on their customers.  
          This means that it is an offence for you to be told that a surveillance warrant has ever been issued against you. This offence exists forever – there is no expiry date – and you may never be told, and if some other person should tell you they risk a prison sentence. In addition, the Home Secretary has reserved the right to demand the placing of specific devices to monitor ISP traffic with little or no deliberation, and no guarantee that the nature of this monitoring will ever be publicized. 
     « If you have stored any form of encrypted message on your computer, you can be forced to hand over the keys to decrypt it upon request by the police. If you don't have the keys then you are obliged to prove that you have never been in possession of them. Failure to do so means two years deprivation of liberty. »  
          The Bill contains another innovation, notably that if you have stored any form of encrypted message on your computer you can be forced to hand over the keys to decrypt it upon request by the police. If you do not have the keys then you are obliged to prove that you have never been in possession of them. Failure to do so means two years deprivation of liberty. How do you prove that you never had something anyway? Decryption notices will be secret so there will be no way to complain effectively. Tipping someone off about one carries a penalty of five years. This is the underlying concept of Corpus Juris, guilty until proven innocent.  
          Imagine that one of your friends is the innocent father of a son who is suspected of some crime or other. An e-mail with a PGP encrypted signature received by the father from the son could well fall within the scope of this bill; with the father risking prison for failing to reveal its contents. The surveillance of communications is, as before, explicitly excluded from being used in a court of law. While this theoretically provides privacy for your e-mails (they cannot be quoted in a court case), it also means that if your communications are tapped, you will never know about it either. 
The RIP Bill: unlimited 
          The RIP Bill contains enough to provide a writer with sufficient material for one or more books and this article can only touch very briefly on a few of the main points. 
          There is no time limit to this imposition: nor is there a « whistle-blowing » clause.  
          It will be a criminal offence, even fifty years from now, for anyone to inform you that you were monitored back in the year 2000. The only escape clause for this secrecy is if an ISP should chose to prosecute the government on its own behalf. A rather unlikely event, given that the rights being infringed are those of the person named in the warrant, not those of the ISP. It would also affect the profits of the business if it were to attempt such a course of action.  
          This bill expands considerably the number of people capable of being prosecuted for refusing to serve a warrant. One feature of the Internet is that in theory, anyone can operate a « public telecommunications service » online. By widening this definition, the Bill is placing a huge liability on British companies to provide interception capabilities, which its competitors do not face. A tremendous potential for causing economic harm. 
          Less apparent, faster connections and server-based services now mean that facilities that formerly would have been kept « on site » can be moved off to remote locations, connected by a virtual private network across the public Internet. This means that private communications between individuals in a company (previously this would have been kept within an office network) might now be sent across the Internet to people working at home. Traditionally this data would have required that a warrant be served on the individual or individuals. After passage of the RIP Bill; these companies could be monitored without their knowledge in fishing expeditions looking for convictions, or to monitor deals « in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom ». 
          Individuals too, will suffer also from this expansion of the state's ability to pry. If the government wants access to the data on your hard drive, you will be served a warrant so you will know that they are looking at it and you. However, should you be a client of, say Apple's online temporary file storage facility then nobody will tell you and you will remain ignorant forever. 
          As long as the Home Secretary signs a certificate saying that he (or she) is certain that this is all a matter of national security, the authorities can monitor whomever they wish. Provided that their conduct « consists in the interception of external communications in the course of their transmission by means of a telecommunication system ». 
          « External communications » are messages sent or received from outside the UK. In other words, the British Security establishment will have a mandate to monitor all incoming and outgoing international traffic, regardless of who it is from or to. All this can happen with the general permission of the Home Secretary. Could any spook have wished for more? 
          If any UK citizen uses the Internet to access mail via Yahoo, Hotmail, or Netscape. If they use ICQ, AIM or Napster (where you can locate and download your favorite music in MP3 format or chat with others) or subscribe to mailing lists hosted on US machines. If they buy shares online at Charles Schwab or E*Trade. If they post to or read USENET via DéjàNews or use Compuserve or AOL, then they will doubtless be enchanted to learn that the Home Secretary intends to grant the security services, customs and police the permission to monitor them; with virtually no legal oversight. 
          The bill contains many other clauses, most of which could make those who value their privacy, and their liberty, shake their heads in disbelief. It is to be hoped that there will be enough serious objections to bring about needed changes, otherwise the citizens of that island may wake up to the fact that they are living in something closely approximating a totalitarian state.  
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