MPs slam e-commerce Bill

MPs slam e-commerce Bill
Trade and industry committee reject government proposals for e-commerce; Key escrow plans singled out as ‘cumbersome and restrictive to business’; DTI expected to draft new simplied uncontroversial Bill. Peter Mitchell The House of Commons backbenchers’ trade and industry committee has rejected the government’s plans for e-commerce regulations in a highly critical report. Committee chairman Martin O’Neill said that many of the Department of Trade and Industry proposals seemed designed to restrict rather than promote e-commerce. In particular, key escrow – which forces firms using cryptography to lodge their secret keys with a government-controlled body so that the police can access them – was “cumbersome and restrictive” to business, he said. “It seems that the security services’ viewpoint has been given undue weight in drafting this proposal,” said O’Neill. The police have campaigned hard for key escrow. But in evidence to the committee, it was universally rejected by business. Chris Sundt, chair of the CBI’s information security panel, said that key escrow would not give the police the interception capability they expected – whereas it would certainly undermine business confidence in the UK. “If Britain wants to create an e-commerce environment attractive to business, the only realistic way forward is for industry to work with government, and agree a process that will give the police maybe 80 per cent of what they want,” said Sundt. He supported a suggestion from Intel managing director, Keith Chapple, that the police should set up a national computing specialist unit to confer with the industry about the impact of new technology on crime. O’Neill said he now expects the DTI to draft a much simplified, uncontroversial Bill omitting security provisions such as key escrow. This would enable the legislation to be passed this year. However, a review of the 15-year-old Interception of Communications Act is now under way, which is expected to give the police new powers to decrypt secure e-mail.


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