Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat) Peer
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Dear Lord Dholakia,
I am writing to you with regard to the Digital Economy Bill. As you know amendments may be tabled in the Lords until December 16th. I have chosen to write to you rather than to a random member of the House of Lords because of your Brighton connections, and because of your record in supporting important causes.
In common with many users of the Internet I am deeply concerned about the proposals in the Bill to cut off Internet access as a sanction for illegal file sharing. This is an extraordinarily excessive measure for such an offence, even if it was easy to prove. However the standards of evidence required by the Bill are very low, and prone to error, and the evidence will never point to an actual offender but only to an account holder who may or may not be responsible. The Bill takes no account of the collective nature of Internet usage which make the singling out of individual offenders virtually impossible, to say nothing of the hacking of wireless connections which is very likely. Are whole communities to be cut off from the major method of communication of our age because one member might possibly have downloaded a piece of copyrighted material?
There is also the question of intrusion. This Bill will necessarily involve demanding private information from Internet Service Providers. It will then make them the agents responsible for punishing the putative offenders. Human rights obligations require the adoption of the least intrusive method for achieving a legitimate aim. This Bill would seem to run contrary to that obligation.
Other nations such as Finland and France have already stated that Internet access is a human right. It is the way that ordinary people communicate, and it is deeply disturbing that this is to be threatened. Especially so as the language of the Bill is so very broad. This leaves open the possibility of these sanctions being used for any purpose whatsoever at the whim of the Secretary of State.
I hope that you will raise these questions in the debate on the Bill, and hopefully encourage your fellow Lords to take a stand.
House of Lords debate Schools: Biometric Data 19 March 2007
- My Lords, how many schools hold records of children's fingerprints? What plans do the Government have to ensure that these records are not used in identity fraud?
Grand Committee Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Investigation of Protected Electronic Information: Code of Practice) Order 2007 17 July 2007
- First, there is the secrecy requirement. Paragraph 10.8 of the code of practice details the possible provision mandating that the person to whom a Section 49 notice is delivered keeps the existence of the notice secret. The enactment of such a secrecy provision, in combination with the fact that an individual may be ordered to disclose encryption keys to which he has access with a business or personal associate, means that authorities might be able to encrypt an individual’s information without their knowledge.
- Secondly, paragraph 3.19 notes that encryption key material can be retained in the memory of an individual. The Minister explained at some length how the provision would work. Paragraph 10.5 states that if an individual provides evidence to the effect that he or she does not have possession of the key, the burden is on the prosecutor to prove the contrary beyond reasonable doubt, but it is unclear how that would work in the case of memorised passwords.
- Thirdly, the sentencing guidelines seem to provide some bizarre incentives. Paragraph 10.2 lays out the penalties for failure to comply with an order: a maximum of two years’ imprisonment in most cases, rising to five years in national security cases. However, if an individual were in possession of an encryption key that would reveal their involvement in, say, a terrorist plot or other crimes such as child pornography, they would get off far easier by refusing to give the key and going to prison for non-compliance than they would by revealing the evidence of their other crimes.
- Fourthly, the penalties for the abuse of power under Part 3 of RIPA need to be laid out. At present, only failure to protect disclosed information is covered, but there is a danger that public authorities will misuse their investigative power, and that remains unaddressed.
- Finally, no mention is made of the need to protect the confidentiality of financial services. I refer to paragraphs 6.8 to 6.9. There are concerns that, if a bank is required to disclose keys that enable investigators to track the flow of money into and out of suspect bank accounts, the same data could be used to monitor other accounts. It would be helpful if the Minister could give his observations on the five points I have raised.