The UK government held an informal meeting at Number 10 Downing Street yesterday where politicians categorically told a number of Britain’s digital leaders that it is not seeking a ban on end-to-end encryption, Business Insider understands.
End-to-end encryption, the term given when only the sender and recipient of messages can decipher them, makes it harder for intelligence agencies to spy on digital communications. In theory, this unbreakable encryption method could be used by terrorists to plot attacks on the UK under the radar of the nation’s intelligence services.
The Telegraph and several other publications suggested yesterday that Home Secretary Theresa May was going to outline proposals to ban end-to-end encryption when she delivers the new Investigatory Powers Bill at 12:30pm today. However, it looks as though they may have been wrong.
A source close to the matter told Business Insider that those at the No. 10 meeting were informed that none of the encryption laws being proposed in the bill are any different to what presently exists today through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
Business Insider understands that the meeting was attended by no more than 30 people, including members of the Prime Minister’s team, members of the Cabinet Office, and several prominent UK technology founders and investors.
A string of tweets on Twitter suggest that Passion Capital investor Eileen Burbidge and entrepreneur Azeem Azhar may have been present at the meeting.
Burbidge, a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and George Osborne’s UK fintech envoy, wrote on Twitter: “Contrary to other reports, I’ve been told HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] is categorically *not* seeking ban on end-to-end encryption.” She accompanied her tweet with a screenshot of a story in The Telegraph by security editor Tom Whitehead which stated that the government would outline proposals for banning end-to-end encryption.
Azhar retweeted Burbidge’s tweet, writing: “Me too.”
Passion Capital partner Nicolas Sharp and Weave cofounder Rodolfo Rosini are also thought to have been at the meeting.
The Investigatory Powers Bill is the proposed new legislation intended to cover the surveillance powers of the police and intelligence agencies in the digital age.
Apple and encryption
Many of the world’s largest technology companies, including Apple, say they offer end-to-end encryption in a bid to assure customers that their communications are private.
Apple writes on its website that it has “no way to decrypt iMessage and FaceTime data when it’s in transit between devices.”
It adds: “So unlike other companies’ messaging services, Apple doesn’t scan your communications, and we wouldn’t be able to comply with a wiretap order even if we wanted to.”
But the Prime Minister has openly expressed that he doesn’t want technology device makers and social media giants to offer end-to-end (or full) encryption because it prevents the UK intelligence agencies from accessing what can potentially be important evidence in cases relating to terrorism and paedophilia.
Other things to look out for in the bill
End-to-end encryption is just one issue that will be covered by the Investigatory Powers Bill.
The bill is also expected to announce plans to give security services the power to view the web browsing history of everyone in the country. The proposed legislation would make it a legal requirement for communications companies to keep all the web browsing history of customers for 12 months in case MI6, MI5, GCHQ, or police need to see them.
Previous plans to introduce the measure in the so-called snooper’s charter in 2013 were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition.
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