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Charles Clarke, Home Office Minister, last night described the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) bill as "one of the most complicated pieces of legislation I've ever seen".

Speaking in the House of Commons while MPs battled over last minute niggles on the government's email snooping plans, he attacked the bill's critics. First in the firing line was a report which labelled RIP "technically inept" - which the Internet organisation FIPR had handed out to MPs earlier this week.

"I do not accept the comments made by this organisation," Clarke stated three times in the course of a five-minute statement.

Next target was the media. When pressed on the likely financial cost of RIP to industry, Clarke said there had been "very seriously damaging figures" suggested in the press, which "distorted the debate in what I think was a very damaging way". Clarke stuck to Home Office estimates over cost, and said the £20 million figure offered to industry to cope with RIP would not change.

For such a controversial piece of legislation, the latest Commons RIP debate was rather low-key; opposition parties are now on board and on message following a series of amendments forced through by the House of Lords.

Ministers have to had to back down on several issues, including the setting up of an advisory technical board, and allowing companies to sue law enforcement agencies if private client information is leaked.

"This is now a much improved bill. The two houses together have achieved a great deal," said Oliver Heald, Tory MP for NE Herts, who said the original draft had been an "ugly beast of a bill".

The Liberal Democrats were also happy with the new-improved RIP, although they said more work would be needed at the codes of practice stage.

The study describing RIP as "technically inept" (and slated by Clarke), was released last night in a last-ditch attempt to halt the legislation. More information can be found here. ®

Related Links

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill – Technically inept: ineffective against criminals while undermining the privacy, safety and security of honest citizens and businesses

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