Internet plans 'will hinder business'

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The Tories attacked the Government's plans for e-commerce yesterday, claiming its proposed legislation would infringe civil liberties.

The Tories attacked the Government's plans for e-commerce yesterday, claiming its proposed legislation would infringe civil liberties.

Plans to let law-enforcement agencies see the web sites of Internet users suspected of criminal activity amounted to a "presumption of guilt", said Alan Duncan, the Torytrade and industry spokesman.

Under the draft e-commerce Bill, to be introduced early in the next parliamentary session, people suspected of offences would be challenged to provide access to their sites.

Mr Duncan welcomed plans to give Internet users a legally binding "electronic signature" to boost consumer confidence, but challenged Patricia Hewitt, the e-commerce minister, to drop clauses on the remit of law-enforcement agencies.

"The proposed legislation is a heavy-handed dog's dinner which, if enacted in its present form, will hinder the progress of e-commerce," he said.

Ms Hewitt countered that the draft Bill has been described by Bill Gates, the American founder of Microsoft, as a "model for the rest of Europe". Plans to force all British Internet users to give free access to law-enforcement agencies had been dropped, she said.

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