Sh0shanna on Mon, 27 Mar 2000 17:29:23 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Peaceful Protests to be considered SERIOUS CRIME

Activist Mailing List -
[Tue, 22 Feb 2000]

Peaceful protest is a "serious crime" in the British government's Bill to
intercept private email communication

Statement from GreenNet

In September last year, at a conference on British government plans to
give police and intelligence services the right to read private email,
Patricia Hewitt, the minister for e-commerce, claimed these plans were
necessary "because crime has become global and digital and we have to
combat this". What she omitted to mention was that one of the "crimes" 
the government was setting out to combat was the kind of peaceful protest
actions that took place in Seattle at the WTO meeting. 

This has now been made crystal clear in the proposed Regulation of
Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill. Continuing with a definition first
brought in by the Thatcher government to allow police to tap the phones of
union members in the 1985 British miners' strike, the Bill specifically
designates "conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common
purpose" to be "a serious crime" justifying an interception of their
private email correspondence. The police requested that this measure be
introduced in a report into the demonstration that took place at the City
of London as part of an international day of protest actions on June 18th
last year. There were violent clashes between the police and this
initially non-violent demonstration. 

The group that organised the June 18th demonstration is a GreenNet user
and much of the organisation for the international protest took place
using GreenNet Internet facilities. If the RIP Bill had been in place last
year there seems little doubt that the police would have applied for an
order to force GreenNet to give them access to the private email of people
involved in the June 18th events. The police would almost certainly have
wanted a similar order over protest activities planned to coincide with
the Seattle WTO meeting. 

Under the RIP Bill, they will now be able to obtain such facilities to spy
on the activities of protest groups. Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
will have to build "interception capabilities" into their systems. When
served with an "interception warrant" they will be forced to intercept
private email and convey its contents to the police or various
intelligence services. Refusal to comply with a warrant will carry a
maximum jail sentence of two years. "Tipping-off"  someone that their
email is being read is punishable by up to five years jail. 

This also applies to informing anyone not authorised to know about the
interception warrant. The warrant will initially be served on a named
individual within an ISP. They may inform only those other people they
need to help them implement the warrant and these, in turn, face the same
penalties for tipping-off. The only exception allowed is to consult legal

A separate section of the Bill deals with encryption. This provides for
"properly authorised persons (such as members of the law enforce- ment,
security and intelligence agencies) to serve written notices on
individuals or bodies requiring the surrender of information (such as a
decryption key) to enable them to understand (make intelligible) 
protected material which they lawfully hold, or are likely to." 

Such an order can be served on anyone "there are reasonable grounds for
believing" has an encryption key. They could face two years jail for not
revealing the key and are also subject to the same possible five year jail
sentence as ISPs for informing someone that attempts are being made by the
authorities to read their email. This section of the Bill has been widely
condemned by civil liberties lawyers as reversing the fundamental right of
a person to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and will almost
certainly be challenged using the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The British Bill is part of long term plans that have been developed since
1993 to give law enforcement bodies around the world the ability to
intercept and read modern digital communications. In that year, the FBI
initiated an International Law Enforcement Tele- communications Seminar
(ILETS) for that purpose. The ILETS group has operated behind the back of
elected parliamentary bodies and within the European Union its plans have
been implemented through secret meetings of the Council for Justice and
Home Affairs (CJHA). 

An essential part of these plans involve international collaboration
between law enforcement bodies. Large sections of the RIP Bill deal with
"International mutual assistance agreements" to intercept communications.
Particular reference is made to a "draft Convention on Mutual Assistance
in Criminal Matters" produced within the CJHA. This Convention lays out
plans for communications taking place between individuals in one country
to be intercepted in another.  The RIP Bill includes specific legislation
"to enable the United Kingdom to comply with the interception provisions
in this draft".  The Bill's Explanatory Notes go on to say that "Although
no similar agreements are currently under negotiation, this subsection
will provide flexibility for the future". 

In fact, Hansard records of a debate on the draft Convention in the House
of Lords reveal that "it is hoped that in due course substantially similar
provisions will be adopted by members of the Council of Europe and that
there will be co-operation on similar lines with the United States and
Commonwealth countries" (Lord Hoffman. Moving a report on behalf of the
government. 7 May 1998). 

The Council of Europe has 41 member states and includes many countries
with extremely dubious democratic credentials and some very partisan "law
enforcement" bodies (Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, etc). At
the same time, the ILETS group at the centre of the plans for
international co-operation in communication interception includes Hong
Kong, now part of mainland China. 

In many of these countries, opposition to the government or just fighting
for democratic rights is regarded as "serious crime". Yet the RIP Bill
proposes open ended legislation to allow interception from the UK of
"communications of subjects on the territory of another country according
to the law of that country" at the request of "the competent authority" in
that country. It even proposes that "Since no decision is being made on
the merits of the is considered appropriate for these warrants
to be issued by senior officials rather than the Secretary of State." 

The RIP Bill is an extremely reactionary piece of legislation dressed up
with New Labour "spin" to make it appear as if it limits state spying on
citizens when it actually extends it dramatically. The Bill represents a
serious threat to the rights of those who use the Internet to campaign on
social justice issues, both in Britain and internationally. 

Representation to the Home Office from GreenNet over this was disregarded.
Although GreenNet's submission was included on the Home Office web site,
the points we made were totally ignored in the Home Office summary of
submissions. We have been one of the most active ISPs within the Internet
Service Providers Association (ISPA) in expressing a viewpoint on the
Bill, yet we were not included in the 20 strong ISPA delegation that the
Home Office selected to meet. 

GreenNet intends working with sympathetic civil liberties groups, lawyers,
politicians and Internet policy organisations against the passing of the
Bill. We call for the widest possible international support for this
campaign from ISPs and user groups using the Internet for social
campaigning purposes. The RIP Bill represents a serious threat to us all.
Campaigning against it will be an important part of the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC) European Civil Society Internet Rights
Campaign, which GreenNet is playing a major role in. 

Anyone who wants to help in this campaign please contact


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for
this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and
truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation,
and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity
with God, and with one another, that these things may abound." (Edward
Burroughs, 1659) 

Paul Mobbs -, tel./fax 01295 261864
Tim Shaw -, tel./fax 01558 685353
Website -

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