Apple has vigorously attacked the UK’s new proposed spying laws — accusing them of everything from undermining consumer trust to threatening to “spark serious international conflicts.”
The Investigatory Powers Bill is an attempt by David Cameron’s Conservative government to update Britain’s spying laws for the modern age. Under the bill, Britons’ internet history will be retained and accessible by law enforcement. With judicial approval, they can also access the content of communications. It will also make it legal for spooks to hack into people’s devices when required.
Apple lists a number of grievances with the bill. Here are the key ones:
- It sets a dangerous precedent. The Cupertino company argues that other countries are not going to “sit on their hands” if Britain passes the bill. It will supposedly give strict regimes like Russia and China an excuse to increase their own spying powers.
- It will create a mishmash of contradictory laws across the globe. Similar to the issue of setting a precedent, Apple predicts the bill would be the start of a flood of new laws around the world, with damaging effects for tech companies. “It would also likely be the catalyst for other countries to enact similar laws, paralysing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws.”
- It will “immobilise” tech companies. Apple warns that the regulations will “immobilise substantial portions of the tech sector and spark serious international conflicts.”
- Its stance on encryption. Encryption is a topic of heated debate right now. Many big tech companies like Apple and Google use strong encryption in their products, meaning neither the company nor law enforcement can access the content of communications or data, even with a warrant. Britain says it isn’t looking to ban encryption, but there are fears that the phrasing of the bill could force tech companies to weaken encryption in order to comply. Apple says it means “the personal data of millions of law-abiding citizens [will be] less secure.”
- It undermines consumer trust. Because the bill lets UK spies hack devices around the world, and requires companies to help when necessary, this will arguably harm Apple’s relationship with its customeers. “It would place businesses like Apple — whose relationship with customers is in part built on a sense of trust about how data will be handled — in a very difficult position … For the consumer in, say, Germany, this might represent hacking of their data by an Irish business on behalf of the UK state under a bulk warrant — activity which the provider is not even allowed to confirm or deny. Maintaining trust in such circumstances will be extremely difficult.”
Back in November, after the draft investigatory powers bill was first introduced, Apple CEO Tim Cook warned about the dangers of weakening encryption. He argued that “opening a backdoor can have very dire consequences … It’s not the case that encryption is a rare thing that only two or three rich companies own and you can regulate them in some way. Encryption is widely available. It may make someone feel good for a moment but it’s not really of benefit. If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go.”