- Computer users who refuse to divulge their passwords
to the authorities face up to two years in jail under increased police
powers to be unveiled in next month's Queen's speech.
- Other measures drawn up by the government will make it
easier for companies to monitor employees' phone calls and e-mails. A third
part of the crackdown will give the police new authority to tap mobile
phone calls, pager messages and e-mail.
- The plans were already attracting criticism last night,
with one Tory MP warning that the government risked creating "a state
surveillance system like something out of Orwell's 1984".
- Government ministers will justify the measures as necessary
to trap pornographers, drug traffickers and fraudsters who exploit new
technology. Police officers who gain a search warrant from the courts can
already look at computer files, but provisions in the forthcoming e-commerce
bill will allow them to demand passwords used to protect sensitive data.
A suspect who witholds them faces a jail term of up to two years.
- "Paedophiles and drug barons tend to send material
that can be unlocked only if you know a code often extending to many digits,"
said a senior government source last night. "The law has to catch
up with this."
- The bill will also legally oblige internet service providers
(ISPs) to keep records showing to and from whom material has been sent
and received. In spite of industry complaints about the cost, ministers
want the ISPs to keep detailed records on all customers for days at a time.
- "The provision will prove invaluable in tracking
down paedophile rings, for example," said a source at the Department
of Trade and Industry, which has drawn up the measure in co-operation with
the Home Office.
- Many companies monitor employees' phone calls and e-mails
to ensure customers and clients are being dealt with according to required
standards. This is a grey area legally, but the Home Office is to give
firms a legal right to monitor their workers, so long as they warn them
that this is company practice.
- The proposed new Interception of Communication Act will
also deal with criminals who frequently change their mobile phone numbers
and e-mail addresses, to exploit the fact that warrants are issued for
a particular number or address. New catch-all warrants will cover all of
a named individual's communications devices and will last for three months
instead of two.