From the Bill: Make provision for and about the interception of, communications, the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the carrying out of surveillance, the use of covert human intelligence sources and the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected by encryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed; to provide for the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to entries on and interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy and to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; and for connected purposes.
The spectre of internet crime and paedophilia was used to push the Act through and there was little substantive debate in the House of Commons. Outside of there the Act had numerous critics, most regarding the new regulations as dangerously excessive and a threat to civil liberties.
Especially contentious was the requirement to supply cryptographic key to a duly authorised person on request. Failing to provide the key is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of two years in jail. The accused must prove that they do not have the key, claiming to have mislaid or forgotten it will not be accepted in defence. Both the innocent and the guilty would be caught in that condition, the guilty because they would rather serve two years than ten or more. Further is that those under investigation may not tell anyone they are being investigated, under threat of five years imprisonment.
Another problem is that the Bill requires UK Internet Service Providers to install systems to track all subscribers' communications traffic and log this, possibly in perpetuity. This must occur at the ISPs expense rather than the governments.
RIPA can be invoked by any government official on the grounds of national security; preventing or detecting crime; preventing disorder; public safety; protecting public health; and in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. There are few limits on the extent of any information-gathering that may take place
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on February 9 2000 and completed its Parliamentary passage on July 26. The Bill received Royal Assent on July 28.
In September 2003 Home Secretary David "Big" Blunkett announced wide ranging extensions to the list of those entitled to see information collected under the RIPA. The list now includes jobcentres, local councils and the chief inspector of schools. Civil rights and privacy campaigners have dubbed these extensions a "snoopers' charter".
http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/20000023.htm Text of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Cambridge University Professor Ross J Anderson maintains a Web site with informed and responsible commentary on this Act (Google search for Ross Anderson).