The UK's GCHQ, home to much of the country's surveillance operations.
Photo: GCHQ / MOD/EPA

Apple and others fear the costs of a rash of country-specific laws.

By Geoffrey Smith
December 22, 2015

Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names have joined forced in an attempt to stop the U.K. introducing a new law that would greatly expand the scope for surveillance by security services, according to The Financial Times.

The FT reported that, in a written submission to the parliamentary committee scrutinizing the draft “Investigatory Powers Bill”, Apple argued the law would “immobilize substantial portions of the tech sector and spark serious international conflicts.”

“It would also likely be the catalyst for other countries to enact similar laws, paralysing multi-national corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of country-specific laws,” Apple said, as well as making the personal data of millions of law-abiding citizens less secure by weakening encryption standards.

The draft bill is one of a number of initiatives sweeping across a continent without a unified strategy for tackling the use of cyberspace by terrorists and money-launderers. The issue of terrorism has become particularly sensitive since the attacks in Paris that left over 130 people dead. France had already enacted a similar law widening surveillance power earlier in the year, and privacy advocates have drawn attention to its failure to stop the attacks.

Most controversially, the British bill would oblige providers of encryption services to provide ‘back doors’ to surveillance agencies tracking electronic communications by suspected criminals. All interceptions have to be authorized by the Secretary of Stat for Home Affairs (a senior government minister accountable to parliament) and confirmed by a judicial commissioner (critics of the bill would prefer confirmation by a court-appointed judge to ensure due process).

The FT also noted that other big Silicon Valley names are planning to submit joint testimony to the committee, hoping that their combined clout will have more influence. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft are all intending to contribute to that, the paper cited unnamed sources as saying.

Defenders of the bill argue that it would give more clarity to the legal status of interception requests, helping to clean up the mess exposed and aggravated by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of NSA spying, including on targets outside the U.S..

The Conservative government’s first efforts to pass it in the last parliament were frustrated by its Liberal Democrat coalition partners, but the bill has been revived in a slightly watered-down version since the Conservatives won a majority in May’s general elections.

 

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