The Investigative Powers Act was controversial when it was introduced in 2016, and proposed changes that would give Suella Braverman more authority over online privacy measures have caused further backlash.
By Tom Acres, Technology Journalist
Sunday, July 23, 2023 1:33 a.m., United Kingdom
Apple has launched a blistering attack on government proposals that would force tech companies to scrap new privacy features with the Home Office.
THE iPhone The manufacturer said the changes to the Investigative Powers Act, which are in the process of consultation, would pose a “serious and direct threat” to the security of user data.
In a nine-page memoir, Apple said it would rather withdraw critical privacy measures in its UK services than join the plans.
But what exactly does this law do, what is being proposed now, and is Apple right to be so opposed to it?
The Investigative Powers Act came into force in 2016, and has been called a “snoopy charter” by critics.
These included authorizing security agencies and the police to intercept suspicious communications and authorizing the Home Office to compel communications providers to remove encryption from communications or data.
Encryption is what prevents messages from being seen by people outside the conversation. It is used in popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp and signal.
Proponents say it protects users from surveillance, theft and fraud; while critics say it helps criminals thrive.
The government argued the bill would protect the UK from hostile threats and crack down on illegal activity.
A statement released this week said the amendments will help keep the law relevant as technology develops and “protect the public from criminals, child sex offenders and terrorists”.
What are the amendments?
Apple, which opposed the original bill, is particularly unhappy with three proposed changes.
Companies would be required to notify the Home Office in advance of any new security features they wish to add. Those he doesn’t approve of should be deactivated immediately.
Another would see expanded authority for the Home Office to force non-UK firms to comply with changes it wants them to make to security duties.
Apple says it would give the UK “authority that no other country has” and stifle innovation.
The Home Office insists the law includes “strong independent oversight” to regulate how the surveillance powers it gives public authorities are used. Sky News previously revealed the government never used the bill to order WhatsApp owner Meta to let authorities access encrypted messages, for example.
Apple says the changes erode some of those protections and provide more direct power to the house secretary.
Dr Nathalie Moreno, data protection partner at Addleshaw Goddard, told Sky News they “do not appear to be subject to the clear terms or safeguards normally in place to undertake such reform”.
Why is Apple so opposed to it?
Apple has been a prominent opponent of efforts to allow authorities access to user data, even in extreme cases.
Following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California in 2015, the firm went to court against the FBI to prevent it from breaking into an iPhone used by the killer.
He’s since made privacy a huge part of his brand, and even backtracked on his own. plan to scan people’s iCloud content for child sexual abuse material after a negative feedback from customers and security experts.
Robin Wilton, director of the Internet Society, said Apple’s latest intervention was timed for maximum impact.
It happened a day after Online security billThe government’s landmark internet safety legislation, which could require companies to scan messages for abusive content, has passed the House of Lords.
Mr Wilton told Sky News: ‘It’s not just driven by the proposed amendments to this law, but their perception of the general policy direction of the UK government.
Online safety bill ‘leaves the girls down’
Will Apple’s intervention have an impact?
Matthew Hodgson, the boss of the British messaging platform Element, which counts the British Ministry of Defense among its customers, hopes that the intervention of such a large company will derail the proposals.
Mr Hodgson said the companies were “not bluffing” by threatening to pull their services from the UK over the government’s stance on encryption. WhatsApp and Signal said they would withdraw whether the online safety bill requires them to let messages be scanned.
He told Sky News that these “backdoors” could also give bad actors a chance to break in.
“I’m glad Apple is taking a tough line — the idea of asking the government for permission to add or change encryption on your product is terrifying,” he said.
“This strategy will only undermine our ability to provide secure communications, as customers will not trust us if they think political decisions should be made beyond government.”
This is a limited version of the story so unfortunately this content is not available.
Open full version
The consultation should last eight weeks.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are keeping all legislation under review to ensure it is as robust as possible, and this consultation is part of that process – no decision has yet been made.’
The Online Safety Bill, meanwhile, is expected to be debated by MPs after the summer break. Among its backers are children’s charities which have described private messaging as the “front line” of child sexual abuse.