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'Crap' comms, ID legislation can still be beaten

Ex-peer still seething over ID Cards and RIPA

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The former Lord Phillips of Sudbury, civil liberties campaigner and opponent of ID Cards, got sick of passing "crap legislation" while sitting in the House of Lords, but thinks he can still help clear up the mess.

Andrew Phillips joined a debate at the Scrambling for Safety conference this week about outstanding elements of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which amongst other things will give authorities the right to intercept electronic communications and decrypt encrypted data. RIPA was the first piece of legislation he saw when he joined the Lords in 1998, and he was still debating its loose ends in the weeks before he resigned his seat last month.

"The reason I gave up the Lords is because I'm fed up with handling crap legislation," the Liberal Democrat told an audience of cryptography experts at the London conference.

RIPA, which Phillips called a "hair-raising piece of legislation", is in in its final stages of public consultation over provisions that have yet to be put into force, but for which the Home Office has published draft codes of practice.

Cryptography experts at the conference presented their concerns about the codes of practice, which are interpretations of those areas of the bill that give police and public authorities the power to demand access to people's encypted data and from their communications providers, communications records, and data.

The Home Office maintained that it needed to intercept people's communications and access their encrypted data in order to catch paedophiles and terrorists.

Metropolitan Police paedophile unit head detective chief inspector Matt Sarti estimated that police had about 200 computers they had confiscated from suspects but from which they could not get data because it was encrypted.

Most speakers at the conference did not argue against the introduction of the law per se, but they believed it was not proportionate, had been poorly thought out, and passed by a legislature that didn't understand it.

Further, these provisions of RIPA were criticised for giving the police and public authorities the power to apprehend people's private communications without judicial oversight.

These matters are open to public consultation until 30 August. They will be debated by Parliament in the autumn, and put to vote in 2007.

Another piece of legislation that Phillips fought in the House of Lords and is still fighting today is the Identity Cards Bill. He had been talking with Liberty, the civil rights campaign group, and No2ID about how to continue working against the introduction of ID cards.

"On ID Cards, the battle is not lost, the battle is there to be won," he said.

The rallying cry is the first indication of how Phillips might spend his time since he took the unprecedented step as a life peer by giving up his seat in the House of Lords last month.

He had handled over 13,000 pages of badly drafted legislation last year alone, he said. That was a net increase of about 8,000 pages of legislation in a single year. That volume of work was not conducive to good law making, he said. ®

Details of the Home Office consultation can be found here and here.

The Foundation for Information Policy Research, which organised the Scrambling for Safety Conference, has further information about its stance on RIPA here.

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