Ex Cyber Minister Warns On ISP Snooping


Lord West says government must stop ISPs reading private emails without consent

The government is today facing calls from a former cyber security minister to do more to stop Internet Service Providers (ISPs) snooping on private emails.

According to the BBC, former Labour minister Lord West said that it was currently too easy for ISPs to disregard existing rules which state that ISPs must ask user permission before reading private emails.

The issue of privacy is a touchy subject among ISPs. Virgin Media for example faced outrage from privacy campaigners in November 2009, when it was found to be trialling new technology from Detica that would allow it to monitor file-sharing over the Internet.

Illegal Access

And other ISPs have trialled deep packet inspection software that intercepts and scans emails for adverts. BT was forced into a u-turn after it trialled the hugely controversial Phorm software that logged surfers’ website visits to enable them to target ads at users.

The Home Office said interception of emails without the sender’s knowledge or consent was already a criminal offence, according to the BBC.

However Lord West feels that further action is needed to prevent abuses.

The Labour peer raised the issue in the House of Lords earlier this week, and said that he had ordered a crackdown when he was in government, but ran out of time to tighten up the rules.

“This is something I think is important for the nation. Giving private companies the right to go and look into people’s emails is something I find rather unhealthy,” Lord West was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“If, as a minister, I wanted to look at someone’s emails I would, quite rightly, have to seek the permission of the home secretary. But these companies want the right to go into people’s emails and look for key words without anyone’s permission,” he added.

ISPA Response

“The ISP community takes privacy very seriously and is involved in ongoing conversations with the Home Office and relevant authorities about the privacy of customers or users,” a spokesman for the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) told eWEEK Europe UK.

Last December it was revealed that the Home Office was to include civil rights groups that had been previously ruled out of a consultation over revisions to data interception laws in the United Kingdom.

The UK government is currently revising its intercept legislation – such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) – after being given two months to take action by the European Commission.

And in September last year, the Information Commissioner Office confirmed it is looking into the process that TalkTalk used to monitor the web addresses that its customers were using. The news that TalkTalk was monitoring its customers’ online activity, as part of a trial for a new anti-malware system, first came to light in late July 2010.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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