Apple Says U.K. Surveillance Law Would Endanger All Users

Law Would Give U.K. Government Ability to See U.K. Citizens' Browsing History

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20151102_Apple iPhone 6s_4up
20151102_Apple iPhone 6s_4up Credit: Courtesy Apple

Apple has outlined its opposition to a proposed U.K. surveillance law, saying threats to national security don't justify weakening privacy and putting the data of hundreds of millions of users at risk.

The world's most valuable company is leading a Silicon Valley challenge to the Investigatory Powers Bill, which attempts to strengthen the capabilities of law-enforcement agencies to investigate potential crimes or terrorist attacks. The bill would, among other things, give the government the ability to see the Internet browsing history of U.K. citizens.

Apple said the U.K. government already has access to an unprecedented amount of data. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company is particularly concerned the bill would weaken digital privacy tools such as encryption, creating vulnerabilities that will be exploited by sophisticated hackers and government spy agencies. In response to the U.K. rules, other governments would probably adopt their own new laws, "paralyzing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws," Apple said.

"The creation of back doors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers," Apple said in an eight-page submission to the U.K. parliamentary committee considering the bill. "A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too."

In response to the U.K. bill, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft also will be submitting evidence to the committee, the Financial Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The U.S. technology companies have been strengthening use of encryption technology following revelations by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden of government spying in 2013. The end-to-end encryption used by Apple and others prevents anyone but the recipient from seeing a message -- it's so strong that even Apple can't intercept the message.

"We are clear about the need for legislation that will provide law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies with the powers they need in the digital age, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements," U.K. Security Minister John Hayes said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. The government says the bill won't introduce any new powers and any interception would be subject to strict oversight.

Enough tools
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has become an outspoken advocate for strong encryption technology, saying it protects personal communication, as well as health, financial and business data, for the millions of people who use iPhones and other Apple products. In an interview with CBS Corp.'s "60 Minutes" broadcast on Dec. 20, Cook said that terrorist attacks in Paris didn't change his position on the issue, and governments have enough tools at their disposal to thwart attacks.

Apple said it often cooperates with the U.K. government when information is sought by law enforcement, saying it "helps catch criminals and save lives." Still, the company said that if it was required to weaken its encryption standards, criminals and terrorists would continue using other technology available in the market.

"There are hundreds of products that use encryption to protect user data, many of them open-source and beyond the regulation of any one government," Apple said. "By mandating weakened encryption in Apple products, this bill will put law- abiding citizens at risk, not the criminals, hackers and terrorists who will continue having access to encryption."

-- Bloomberg News

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