The British government is misinforming the public on new spying laws that could soon be embedded deep into the nation’s law book, The Financial Times reports.
Contrary to what Home Secretary Theresa May says, sources told the FT that British intelligence agencies have warned Silicon Valley giants that the British government intends to press ahead with plans to force companies like Apple to open encrypted private messages sent between their customers.
GCHQ and MI5 have reportedly met with executives at Silicon Valley companies and told them that they intend to use clauses in the proposed law to access the information they want. The clauses are said to relate to “the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communications or data.”
The FT cites a UK official who said it was “totally misleading” that the government was asking tech firms to create “back doors” in their software and hardware.
The official said British security agencies want tech companies to use their own resources to break into their users’ encrypted communications when requested to under legal warrant by the government. The UK official added that companies like Apple and Google have plenty of computing power to do this.
A Silicon Valley executive told the FT: “I know [security services] don’t like the fact that a Whatsapp message can be sent between two British people and they can’t get to this.”
Another FT source, a tech executive familiar with the discussions, said: “The security services are saying: ‘We don’t want to hold the key, we don’t want the back door, we just want you to have it.”
Apple and Whatsapp have “end-to-end encryption” built into their messaging platforms to prevent third parties from intercepting information.
Companies that use this form of encryption in their products say they themselves can’t even retrieve the content of these messages. This is an issue for security services.
The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, or IP Bill, is designed to give UK intelligence agencies additional snooping powers so they can access communications between suspected terrorists and identify pedophiles.
This week a parliamentary committee tore into the UK government’s proposed spying bill — dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter — calling parts “inconsistent and largely incomprehensible,” attacking its lack of privacy protections, and saying the entire bill seems rushed.
“Taken as a whole, the draft Bill fails to deliver the clarity that is so badly needed in this area,” the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published Tuesday morning reads. “The issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, however it has been evident that even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve.”
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