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UK police deny Web conspiracy

Civil liberties organisation accused of stirring up paranoia

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Civil rights activists in the UK have been accused of spreading alarmist reports after allegedly uncovering a plot by police to obtain confidential information held by ISPs about their customers. The Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) organisation said it had discovered that the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) last year gave a secret briefing to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) about what customer information ISPs could pass to the police. Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) claimed he'd received a leaked document which proved ISPA was in cahoots with the police and published the so-called evidence as part of a wider report on personal freedom of the Internet. Both Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of ISPA and the chairman of the ACPO Computer Crime Group, Detective Chief Superintendent Keith Akerman, have denied anything sinister took place. DCS Akerman confirmed that a meeting had taken place in November 1997 but said that it was a "private" meeting (as opposed to a public meeting) and not a "secret" meeting, as alleged by Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK). He and Lansman confirmed that the document obtained by the Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) did indeed exist, but said it was an internal discussion document and not a statement of policy. The report called ISPA: Industry Capabilities for the Provision of Information was written by the former chief executive of ISPA, David Kennedy, and discusses in some length the type of information that could be supplied to police. But the report also contains a number of caveats saying that any request for information must be supported by "appropriate documentation". "For anyone to allege that the police are entering into a conspiracy to circumvent the normal legal process is simply ludicrous -- it's too silly even to contemplate," said DCS Akerman. Even if this was true and the police obtained information illegally about people which subsequently lead to a prosecution, it wouldn't be admissible in court, he said. Despite this Akdeniz is adamant that ISPA is hiding something. "With all these possibilities and capabilities for the provisions of information through the ISPs to the police, ISPA runs the risk of becoming the Big Brother Providers Association. The leaked report shows that our concerns were fully justified, and that secrecy, rather than media disinformation was at work with the activities of the ACPO/ISPs Forum," he said. ®

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