First the IP Bill, Then What?
In the face of democratic debate, against all the clamoring voices of human rights organizations, global tech firms such as Facebook and Google, lawyers, journalists, and a host of academics; it seems that with regrettable flippancy, the Investigatory Powers Bill will be passed later this year.
The UK government’s plan for mass surveillance opens the door to indiscriminate and intrusive ‘snooping’. Furthermore, the provisions set out by Teresa May could undermine almost all cybersecurity and encryption measures currently in place. These two powerful and cogent arguments have been meekly put forward in parliament, and have now seemingly been rejected by the UK government.
The human rights impact of the Bill on British people will be huge, but very little has been made of the global and economic ramifications. The Bill, while costing the country billions in lost business, could also legitimize similarly heavy-handed practices in other states.
The UK government has shown that even in one of the most technologically developed countries, that privacy can be eroded by circling democratic process. The message from the UK is clear – it’s acceptable to pass ambiguous ‘snooping’ laws with very little backing. This sets a dangerous precedent and creates a genuine risk that other countries will adopt a similar approach of using a general lack of understanding and capitalizing on fear to push through laws which destroy user privacy.
Other major states are already considering similar moves. France’s parliamentarians recently reformed a penal bill that would punish companies if they refused to provide decrypted versions of messages their products have encrypted. For now, the French government has rejected encryption backdoors as ‘the wrong solution’, but the debate is at tipping point.
After WhatsApp announced it would push encryption further into everyday life, it immediately fell into hot water in Brazil for not storing messages demanded by the country’s courts. After various delays, Google has also moved to default encryption in the most recent release of Android, while Amazon has backtracked, promising that encryption will make a return on its newest Fire operating system. Most infamously, the FBI vs. Apple debate has rolled and rolled, and finally seems to have come to an inconclusive stop.
What is clear is that across the globe there is fast becoming a divide – governments vs. technology companies. The UK has set the precedent: simply pass draconian surveillance laws, and the problem is solved.
The global implications are huge, but the Bill will also cost taxpayers in two tangible ways. The government estimates that implementing the Bill will cost £174m, while experts suggest the figure will be well over £1 billion. These figures are based on a similar scheme that was rejected on cost grounds in Denmark, and have been scaled up proportionally for the UK.
Far larger, however, is the economic cost when companies flee Britain’s shores when the Bill passes. Companies are concerned that the proposed Bill will introduce state security into the heart of day-to-day operations, and will therefore move headquarters further afield. The UK’s data storage/hosting market would be crippled and the country could lose over £10 billion worth of business almost overnight.
The Bill hardly instills any confidence, especially while the implementation and ramifications barely seem to have been considered. A war over encryption is likely to rage, and its impact on the digital economy and day-to-day lives cannot be overstated.
By Jacob Ginsberg, Senior Director, Echoworx