Technology firms operating in the UK will be forced to install backdoors in their products and services for state surveillance purposes under proposed new laws, reports The Sunday Times.
The new powers come under the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), referred to by critics as the “Snooper’s Charter”, which was published by Home Secretary Theresa May on March 1 and is due to get its second reading in parliament tomorrow. The bill is backed by a draft code of practice that would also ban companies from revealing if they had been asked to install the backdoor technology.
The accompanying draft document states that the British Home Secretary has 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 itself grants the Home Secretary the power to order the removal of “electronic protection”, which technology experts say is another word for encryption. Internet service providers would also have to keep records of the online browsing history of everyone for a period of 12 months and enable intelligence agencies to access the data unhindered, allowing them to see every website a person has visited.
The UK opposition Labour party has warned the British government that it will derail the bill by abstaining to vote it through in its current form, which critics have called an invasion of privacy on a massive scale and a huge security risk if passed.
“The Home Secretary’s Bill requires substantial changes before it will be acceptable to us,” said Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham. “It must start with a presumption of privacy, as recommended by the Intelligence and Security Committee, include a clearer definition of the information that can be held in an internet connection record and set a higher threshold to justify access to them.”
According to a 2016 Consumer Openness Index consumer survey, only 12 percent of British people said that they had a good understanding of what the bill involves.
“There are widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft bill,” Nicola Blackwood MP, chair of the Science & Technology Committee, told TechRadar. “The government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.”
In the same survey, half of respondents believed that “making personal data easier for government officials to access will also make it easier for criminals to access that data as well”, while only 6 percent disagreed.
The bill’s progress through the UK parliament comes at a time when Apple is engaged in a high-profile dispute with the FBI, which wants its own backdoor into the company’s software to unlock the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooter investigation.
Apple believes complying with the demand would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the overall weakening of encryption on smartphones and other electronic devices. Apple is scheduled to appear in court to fight the order on March 22.
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