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RIP branded ‘zombie legislation’ as it passes Lords

'Clinically dead from macabre wounds'

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The Lords forced a fresh set of concessions on the government yesterday before passing its email snooping bill.

But industry figures are far from happy with the way the bill stands, saying it will still harm human rights and business confidence.

Under last night's amendments, companies will have the right to sue law enforcement agencies if they cock-up and leak confidential information. But the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (RIP) still gives the police and other bodies the power to order businesses to surrender decryption keys on private client information.

Another move involves a higher level of monitoring such powers. Police or the relevant agency will have to inform the new interception of communications commissioner - who will be a senior judge - within seven days of serving such an order on a company.

This commissioner has now been given powers to report to the prime minister whenever they feel like it - not just once a year as was previously proposed.

Ministers also agreed to stick to the two defeats they encountered in the Lords last week. These involve starting a Technical Advisory Board to advise on and oversee the fitting and running of interception devices in ISPs, and the allocation of at least £20 million in government cash toward the costs of such "black boxes".

Yesterday's concessions are aimed at easing business and Internet industry worries that seized information might fall into the wrong hands.

But it seems unlikely that the climb-downs will do this. First, it is all well and good to sue law enforcement agencies over mismanagement of private information, but this will happen after the damage has already been done to the company and its reputation.

Second, it is difficult to trust any organisation that cannot even protect its own private documents and information. There have been two memo leakages from Number 10 so far this week - whether through error or deliberate actions. This doesn't exactly instill confidence.

Lord Cope, Tory home affairs representative, felt the bill was much improved, but that it was still deeply flawed - he reckons it could be both ineffective for law enforcement and dangerous to e-commerce.

And in the words of Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, the amended encryption powers are unenforceable and unfathomable. "It's zombie legislation. Clinically dead from macabre wounds, it still lumbers on menacing individual privacy and commercial confidence," said Bowden.

RIP is due to go before the Commons next week for its final parliamentary stage before becoming law.

The top-secret material seized under RIP will be held at MI5's high-security building in London. Let's just hope it isn't kept on laptops. ®

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