Apple again opposes proposed UK surveillance powers, through trade body

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Apple last year described proposed new UK surveillance powers as “a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy” – and it has repeated its opposition to the proposed legal changes, though the techUK trade body.

The techUK group, whose members include Apple, has written an open letter to the British government, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss proposed amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act …

The Investigatory Powers Act

The British government has long wanted to make it easier for security services to spy on electronic messages. This idea was first put forward way back in 2006.

Ten years later, many of these powers were granted in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA), including allowing the government to issue orders to tech companies to break encryption by building backdoors into their products. Apple strongly objected to this at the time.

This goal was still alive and kicking last year in the form of the separate Online Safety Bill, which would have banned end-to-end encrypted messaging services like iMessage. Apple said that it would withdraw iMessage and FaceTime from the UK market rather than drop end-to-end encryption, and the government subsequently backed down on this.

However, the government is pressing ahead with plans to add new powers to the Investigatory Powers Act. These could even prevent Apple from issuing security updates to fix security flaws if they are being exploited by the UK’s security services to spy on iPhone users.

Apple strongly opposes the proposed new powers

Apple last year described the proposed amendments to the IPA as a serious threat to global privacy.

The UK seeks authority that no other country has — to prohibit a company from releasing a security feature unless the UK receives advance notice. The result, inevitably, is that a company must choose whether to subject itself to the preferences of the Home Office or deprive users around the world of critical security features […]

The Home Office’s proposals to expand the IPA’s extraterritorial reach and to grant itself the power to pre-clear and block emerging security technologies constitute a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy. 

Urgent meeting requested by techUK

The techUK trade body has written to the British government requesting an urgent meeting to express its concerns, and discuss changes to the proposals. Its members include Apple, Adobe, Amazon, Google, Microsoft – and even the American Embassy in London.

While Apple has previously focused on the security and privacy arguments, this letter attempts to add economic pressure by pointing out that the legal changes could lead to tech companies reducing their investments in the UK.

This unprecedented power could allow the UK government to require foreign companies to take actions that might conflict with their own national laws, placing private companies in an untenable position of having to decide which country’s law to comply with […]

Overseas operators serving the UK market therefore face renewed legal risk which they cannot mitigate, including from an explicit but vague enforcement mechanism. It is important to recognise that any changes made by the UK will be scrutinised by other governments. It is therefore imperative to assess the potential implications for the UK. 

Overall, we are concerned that the proposed changes to the notices regime will make the UK a less attractive place to provide technology services, ultimately disadvantaging consumers.

The letter closes by requesting “the earliest possible opportunity for members to meet with you to discuss how we can work to improve this Bill.”

Photo: Joe Gadd/Unsplash

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