Tech companies voice issues with Snooper’s Charter

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Investigatory Powers Bill, IP Bill, Snooper’s Charter or whatever else you want to call the UK’s currently in debate invasive privacy bill has this week received criticism from leading tech companies.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo who have come together under the umbrella group Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) with others this week submitted evidence against the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Investigatory Powers Bill is currently being debated by a parliamentary committee that is considering all aspects of the bill and examining evidence for and against it before it can be passed to be voted in as law or rejected. The IPBill that has been previously known as the Snooper’s Charter aims to give authorities greater access to encrypted communications such as encrypted chat tools like Whatsapp and privacy enabling products like VPN services from companies such as IPVanish and Overplay.

Privacy groups and corporations are concerned about how such a law may weaken encryption.

As large corporations like the five who make up the RGS have a vested interested to keep user’s information and communications secure they are obviously against any law that would require them to build back doors, weaken encryption or give access to sensitive data on a continual basis.

The RGS group stated in their evidence that the wording of the bill is “opaque” which would make the legislation unclear and at risk of being interpreted in a way that gave more power than was originally intended, or at the very least more power than the tech companies would like authorities to have.

The evidence submitted echoes that of Apple another company who in recent years have upped their interest in the encryption of their customer’s data. Only last year they opted to make the bold move to make it impossible for them to decrypt user information in iOS devices like their popular iPhone.

Encryption allows users to communicate privately via systems that cannot be deciphered by authorities and with growing support from companies such as Apple nor by the tech companies themselves.

UK Home Secretary Teresa May called it an ‘update’ to existing laws.

Part of the Investigatory Powers Bill aims to force tech companies that would regularly include the large five of the RGS to hand over keys that allow authorities to decrypt user communications when necessary which would essentially make Apple’s policy of being unable to decrypt communications at odds with UK law potentially making their products illegal in the UK.

In the evidence submitted the companies stated:

We reject any proposals that would require companies to deliberately weaken the security of their products via backdoors, forced decryption, or any other means.

International companies must comply with individual countries laws and often the borderless online world of communications and encryption clashes with the physical borders and laws of the real world. RGS companies are concerned that with the UK being one of the oldest legal systems in the world and often followed by other smaller countries that any law passed in the UK could have a knock on effect to what other countries feel is acceptable.

The evidence goes on to state that companies would like to offer more transparency to their users and inform them when authorities have requested access to their data.

The influence that some of the world’s largest tech companies now have is clear and companies that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago now have a huge say in what happens globally. While I wholeheartedly applaud the stance these companies are making against the IPBill it also concerns me what sway such adolescent companies that hold vast amounts of data on every individual have on policy and the way in which the world operates.

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