Apple has refused – and a slew of other tech companies have joined the tech giant in claiming that what the FBI wants poses a danger not to just would-be criminals, but everybody that carries a smartphone.
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But in the UK, the government is trying to push through a draconian law that would force internet service providers and technology giants to build secret security flaws into their technology to allow them to be accessed by police and the security services on demand.
A draft code of practice published alongside the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill would also ban tech companies from revealing if they had been asked to install the backdoor technology.
In the paper, it states that the Home Secretary will have the power to force firms to provide the “technical capability” to allow the security services to access communication data as well as undertake “interception” and “equipment interference”.
The bill allows the Home Secretary to order the removal of “electronic protection”, which technology companies say means encryption.
As The Times reports, an executive of a large tech company said, “people shouldn’t be in any doubt, the government is pushing for some of the most invasive surveillance legislation out there today.”
Ministers are even offering to use taxpayers’ cash to help firms such as Apple, Facebook and Google pay for the extra costs of building a backdoor into messaging and other types of app.
Nicola Blackwood MP, chair of the Science & Technology Committee, recently told Tech Radar:
“There are widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft bill. The government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.”
When a law uses vague terminology, it creates a hell of a lot of wriggle room for state agencies to do things that push the limits of what spying on people is allowed to include. Perhaps the best example is the wording of Section 215 of the Patriot’s Act in the United States.
The description of where and when it is appropriate to gather digital information on members of the public means the NSA is allowed to collect everyone’s records in order to identify terrorists living among us.
Motherboard has a great explanation of the implications of all this.
While Apple and FBI’s ongoing tussle has dominated the headlines, it’s more alarming that an advanced, Western democracy is actively attempting to become a more terrifying version of George Orwell’s 1984.
Speaking of which, Joe Cannataci, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to privacy has said the UK’s privacy laws are a “joke” and went into detail about how Orwellian Britain’s views on privacy have become.
“If you look at CCTV alone, at least Winston [Winston Smith in Orwell’s novel 1984] was able to go out in the countryside and go under a tree and expect there wouldn’t be any screen, as it was called. Whereas today there are many parts of the English countryside where there are more cameras than George Orwell could ever have imagined. So the situation in some cases is far worse already.”
If the companies who have queued up in support of Apple over recent weeks are anything to go by, this sort of move by the British government could threaten the UK and in particular, London’s claim to be the tech capital of Europe.
As someone who works in technology in the UK, I cannot help but feel saddened that the government, who already has been declared the world’s most surveilled somehow feels that British citizens aren’t safe unless our privacy becomes a thing of the past.
While many of our readers have grown up in an age where handing over our digital information is part and process of living online, we need to understand that while this is being done in the name of protection, nothing is safe from corruption and abuse.
We cannot possibly predict how this information is going to be used in future so we need to resist the seductive idea of protection at the expense of liberty and the right to a private life.
➤ Police to get phone hacking powers [The Times]
Read next: Is your data being used against you?