IETF considers protest over UK wiretap law

The Internet Engineering Task Force is considering moving a meeting to be held in London next summer in protest at the UK government's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill.

          Just days after the British Parliament passed a controversial Internet wiretapping law, the international organisation that develops Internet standards is considering a proposal to move a meeting scheduled to be held in London next summer to a new location in protest of the law.

          The leadership of the Internet Engineering Task Force will meet Wednesday morning to discuss whether Britain's new Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) law poses an unacceptable privacy risk to their members. The issue also will be considered at an open meeting on Wednesday night, with more than 1,000 IETF members expected to attend.

          The U.K.'s RIP law is designed to crack down on Internet criminals and paedophiles. It outlines the steps that law enforcement officials must take to get a warrant to intercept a suspected criminal's e-mail and Web surfing patterns. To enable interception, the British government plans to install black boxes at ISP sites.

          The RIP law was passed by the House of Lords on July 19 and the House of Commons on July 26. It is scheduled to become law in November.

          British ISPs and IT companies have criticized the RIP law for making it too easy for law enforcement officials to get warrants to intercept Internet communications. Already, a Manchester, England ISP named Poptel is threatening to move some of its services overseas to protect its customers' confidentiality.

          Despite the outcry over the RIP law, IETF Chair Fred Baker says the group may need to keep its meeting in London next summer because it is getting too late to change the location. Baker also says that boycotting the U.K. sets a precedent that would force the group to meet only in countries that adequately safeguard Internet privacy and prohibit Internet wiretapping such as Sweden and Norway.

          Nonetheless, IETF leaders plan to contact the British government to discuss the RIP law and to offer advice to their members about the steps they can take to safeguard their privacy while visiting London. Specifically, the IETF wants to find out whether members should expect search and seizure of their laptops in Heathrow Airport and interception of their e-mail during the weeklong meeting.

          The flap over Britain's RIP law comes less than a year after the IETF held a lengthy debate over whether it should build a wiretapping capability into protocols that support voice communications over the Internet. IETF members eventually voted down that proposal.

          The IETF is hosting one of three annual meetings in Pittsburgh this week.

          A description of the RIP law is at

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