Letter: Policing the Net

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Sir: Police do not seek any new or cosy relationship with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to acquire extra access to material ("Police to intercept e-mails", 21 September). All police approaches to ISPs for access to material are governed by existing law and procedure, and police seek no change to that rigorous regime.

For example, applications to intercept e-mail require a warrant signed by the Home Secretary under the Interception of Communications Act, exactly as with applications to intercept telephone or postal communications. Further, access to data held on computers can only be enforced under a court order signed by a crown court judge under the "special procedures" provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Access to other personal data such as records of e-mail transmissions, where available (that is, the times and computer addresses of senders/recipients, but not content) can be applied for by police direct to ISPs, who are permitted to disclose such information under Section 28 of the 1984 Data Protection Act in certain circumstances. It is for the ISPs to decide whether to release the information.

Neither police nor ISPs are reluctant to publicise the fact that we are discussing how to work together lawfully and effectively. A current series of seminars are intended to help educate both police and ISPs about each others' roles; the police need to understand how the Internet works, and the ISPs need to understand how the law works, what sort of material the police are likely to seek, and the legal procedures involved.


Chairman, ACPO Computer Crime Group


Research Machines

On behalf of Internet Service Providers Association