Interactive: Bill a Threat to E-Commerce; Legislation Could Cost the Country Millions

The Birmingham Post (England), June 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

Interactive: Bill a Threat to E-Commerce; Legislation Could Cost the Country Millions


Lobby groups representing online businesses are pushing for major amendments to a bill - now going through Parliament - which they say threatens to drive e-commerce out of the UK and cost the country up to pounds 46 billion.

Representatives from the British Chambers of Commerce are hoping to meet Mr Charles Clarke, the minister at the Home Office with responsibility for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill, to try to thrash out changes to what Mark Sharman, the BCC's head of policy, called an 'anti-competitive' piece of legislation.

According to the Government, the RIP bill is designed to put surveillance on a proper legal footing in the wake of new technologies like the breakneck growth of Internet usage, electronic encryption and e-commerce.

The bill is currently going through the House of Lords and will reach its final stage in a month's time.

But opponents to aspects of the bill, which include the BCC, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the London Investment Bankers' Association, say it risks driving business that relies on secure online information - from banking to simple e-commerce - out of the UK to more progressive jurisdictions like Ireland and Germany.

Earlier this month, to howls of indignation from the Home Office, the BCC published a report by academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) that claimed the UK risked losing up to pounds 46 billion in business, because the bill threatened to give law enforcement agencies and government officials the right to the 'keys' which unlock secure data, rather than just the data itself.

'The economy will be overlooked by some investors,' said Mr Sharman at a meeting held at Parliament to clarify opposition to the RIP bill.

Costs included lost investment and insurance to cover possible legal liability should data become insecure as a result of the bill, not to mention the cost of legal advice.

In the face of Government accusations that the numbers are inflated, Mr Sharman responded that they were derived from official projections.

More to the point, according to Mr Tim Pearson, chairman of the Internet Service Providers' Association, much of the bill is general and on several points at issue, the Government has told opponents their concerns will be covered in a code of practice.

Such a code is not yet written, although Lord Bassam, the minister overseeing the bill's passage through the Lords, has promised a first draft by the end of this month.

The draft needs to be overseen and revised by industry groups, said Mr Roland Perry, regulation officer for the London Internet Exchange, who said Government suggestions that industry groups were opposed to a statutory role in overseeing the bill's operation were wrong. …

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