The recent Investigatory Powers Bill drafted by the British government has some controversial provisions. According to Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google Inc, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), the giants who dominate the tech world, this Bill if made into a law could allow the UK government to legally hack into computers to get hold of confidential data.
The Bill contains equipment interference provisions, according to which security forces, the army and the police can legally tap into computer systems to interfere with their security systems to obtain sensitive data, if an official warrant allows them to do so. The government, in turn has countered this argument with one of theirs –that these provisions are essential to intercept any kind of communication that occurs between criminals even if they are protected through tokenization and encryption.
However tech companies have warned that the plan would set a dangerous precedent that would be followed by other countries, will damage trust in their services and may be impossible to implement anyway.
In a combined appeal to the Ministers of Parliament, these companies have put forward their apprehensions and warned them that the law, if implemented can prove to be a dangerous precedent for other countries, which may follow in the same direction. In their submission to the UK government, they have noted that it could “involve the introduction of risks into products and services” and hence render them “vulnerable”.
They have also warned about the absence of any kind of legislation that aim at the protection of cyber security in case of any security breach. The aforementioned statement has also said that the provisions in the Bill should have better clarity as to how the government plans to implement them when and if it becomes a law.
Vodafone too has voiced its dissent – the equipment interference provision may impose major restrictions on the liberty of an operator to “operate its services” in the way that it may appear appropriate for its users.
It also questioned the necessity of such an intrusive provision, and also stated that such a provision could make companies compromise on their respective security systems and privacy policies, that are responsible for protecting customers from unwanted external interference. It stated that this could lead to tampering of “national infrastructure” and reduce the availability of “essential services”.
Mozilla, the mind behind the Firefox internet browser, voiced its concern and said that it was a massive invasion that could force any software developer, to provide their users with malicious software, “without notice”.
The issue of hacking isn’t the only problematic manifestation of this provision – Facebook, Google, Vodafone, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo!, and many others as mentioned above, that laws that apply to such companies that have a global outreach could create a conflict in their legal obligations, thereby forming an “increasingly chaotic international legal system will leave companies in the impossible position of deciding whose laws to violate”.
The United Nations Human Rights rapporteur has warned such mass surveillance which lacks transparency and clarity, could violate individual freedoms and interfere with a person’s right to privacy, something that faces much threat in the virtual world.