Kudos to Unity at Talk Politics and the Liberty Central website for bringing some small measure of sense to the attention of the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Lynne Feathersone, who tabled an Amendment during the Commons Committee stage consideration of the controversial Clause 35 of the Police and Justice Bill, which seeks to amend the obsolete, pre-internet Computer Misuse Act 1990.
This Amendment in turn prompted a very late Government Amendenent by Hazel Blears, the Home Office Minister, which has improved the "catch all" nature of the orginal wording, which threatened to criminilise almost every competent IT systems adminsitrator, penetration tester and security or network utilty software programmer in the UK, and, given the global reach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, the rest of the world as well.
We hope that our blog posts such as this and this on the subject have also contributed to the debate.
The relevant Standing Committee D 7th session proceedings from 28th March 2006 are now online..
Michael Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Government amendment No. 148 refers to
“believing that it is likely to be so used.”
That creates a duty of care. The Minister will probably strengthen or endorse the amendment by stating that there is a duty of care to ensure that the software does not fall into the hands of those who might use it unlawfully.
The issue is important, and it is right that magazines have identified it. I assume that it was Computer Weekly—[Interruption.] It is in fact the Liberty Central website, with which I am not familiar. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that Liberty Central has identified the issue. Given the constant liaisons, night and day, and at weekends, between the chairman of the all-party internet group and the Minister, and the fact that the Home Office is so dependant on the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey for the very workings of government, I am shocked that it has taken so long for the Government amendment to arrive. Nevertheless, despite its belated appearance, I welcome it.
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Unfortunately, as we predicted earlier the other inadequate amendments to the Computer Misuse Act went through "on the nod" with no debate. There should be a whole Bill devoted to Computer and Telecomms security, not just these three amendments tagged on to the much larger Police and Justice Bill.
There was an utterly cringeworthy self-congratulatory speech by the Chairman of the All Party Internet Group (APIG), who had failed to spot the overbroad, "catch all" nature of Clause 35 as ariginally worded, and whose Clause 34 supposedly dealing with Denial of Service attacks is also flawed, despite about 3 years of "consultations":
Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): May I reassure the hon. Lady? I had a ten-minute Bill on the Computer Misuse Act 1990, based on the all-party group on the internet’s inquiry, which was almost a Select Committee-style inquiry.
The provision has the approval of the whole computer industry, so I am fascinated that the hon. Lady has picked up on groups of people on the internet who do not like it. We have worked with the industry
How can he possibly claim that "The provision has the approval of the whole computer industry" ?
Why was there no Public Consultation or Regulutaory Impact Assessment and cost / benefit report about these proposed changes ?Column Number: 261 for the past two and a half years to get it right. Moreover, we have worked with the Home Office
The Home Office is provably incompetent with repect to information technology.
and with the industry’s approval. We have been in and out of the Home Office and worked on the clauses and their interpretation. Last week, I was with some of the team who were trying to understand better how we could tweak and rephrase things. I am absolutely confident that we have got it right. If I did not think that, I would say so.
Sorry Derek, you were completely wrong in that regard.
I applaud the way in which the Home Office has worked with MPs from all sides over the past few years on this tiny piece of legislation. It repeals the 1990 Act—imagine what a computer looked like in 1990—and will be the best piece of legislation, I believe, in the world. It beats what America or Australia are trying to do. The hon. Lady should have more confidence in the way in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have worked on the issue, including on the Government amendment.
It is incredible that it took them "two and a half years" to produce such badly worded legislation.
Remember that APIG appears to be partly funded by the Internet Service Provider industry through and their lobbyists Political Intelligence, but that is not the same as the whole IT industry.
Interestingly, Lynne Featherstone comments on her blog
Rather curiously too, given that this was an IT issue and is about putting people's liberties at risk, I've had very, very little lobbying on the issue. It's not often I wish for more emails in my inbox (!) but I think the online community missed a bit of a trick on this one. /blockquote>