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ISPs 'blindsided' by UK.gov's 'emergency' data retention and investigation powers law

Oh look, there's even an HHGTTG clause

Rolex in Live and Let Die

The Tory-led government's "emergency" data retention and investigation powers (Drip) bill currently being rushed through Parliament has caught ISPs off guard, it has emerged.

The Register understands that telcos were only gently briefed on the plans ahead of last week's announcement from Prime Minister David Cameron. An industry source said ISPs had been "blindsided" by the move, which came days before politicos break for summer recess.

The bill surprised many by quickly securing cross-party support prior to its publication last Thursday. At the same time, Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg - whose Liberal Democrat Party had opposed Home Secretary Theresa May's lobby for a Communications Data law, colloquially dubbed a "snooper's charter" - insisted that the legislative push would not extend the UK's surveillance powers.

Instead, the PM claimed that holes needed to be plugged as a matter of urgency following a European Court of Justice ruling that ripped up the Data Retention Directive in April this year.

Two major concerns have been privately expressed to El Reg.

The bill (PDF) – which is expected to be passed in Parliament within the next two days – comes with a number of proposed amendments to the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

The planned legislation demands that warrants are served in a variety of ways on a person outside the UK whose company offers a form of telecommunications to Brits. The bill states under the "extra-territoriality in Part 1 of Ripa" section that any address in Blighty can be used for such a purpose. The warrant would be made "available for inspection (whether to the person or to someone acting on the person's behalf)," it says.

Critics have been quick to call it the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy* clause.

Elsewhere in the bill, the wording appears to imply that the types of metadata that would fall under the scope of the new law would be much more broadly defined.

Section 5 of the bill states that the meaning of "telecommunications service" in Ripa needs to be tweaked with the following passage inserted:

For the purposes of the definition of "telecommunications service" in subsection (1), the cases in which a service is to be taken to consist in the provision of access to, and of facilities for making use of, a telecommunication system include any case where a service consists in or includes facilitating the creation, management or storage of communications transmitted, or that may be transmitted, by means of such a system.

One industry source told El Reg that such a move would extend the government's surveillance powers to allow spooks to intercept many different types of communication. Arguably, we were told by way of example, warrants under the new law could be served on publishers who provide message boards for their readers.

A House of Commons' standard note about Drip (PDF) issued to MPs late last week, explained that Clause 5 of the bill "clarifies the definition of 'telecommunications service' in Ripa to ensure that internet-based services, such as webmail, are included in the definition."

Clegg has promised a "poison pill" clause that will repeal the legislation at the end of 2016. But it's unclear how effective that may be depending on the make up of the next Downing Street administration after next year's General Election.

All stages of Drip are expected to be pushed through Parliament tomorrow unopposed. Meanwhile, May faces scrutiny about the bill during a home affairs select committee hearing this afternoon. ®

Hitch-note

* ie, like a 'notice for Earth's demolition' posted to Alpha Centauri...

We draw the reader's attention to the relevant passage from HHGTTG, wherein we witness an exchange between Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz and the people of Earth while he prepares to destroy the planet:

People of Earth, your attention, please… This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you…

There's no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now…

What do you mean you've never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven's sake, mankind, it's only four light years away, you know. I'm sorry, but if you can't be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that's your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

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