Apple Warns UK Against Instituting ‘Secret Veto’ On Security Tech

Apple has warned that upcoming changes being considered for the controversial Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 – known as the “snoopers’ charter” – could effectively give the UK government the means to “secretly veto” new security protections worldwide.

“We’re deeply concerned the proposed amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) now before Parliament place users’ privacy and security at risk,” Apple said in a statement.

“It’s an unprecedented overreach by the government and, if enacted, the UK could attempt to secretly veto new user protections globally preventing us from ever offering them to customers.”

The amendments are to be debated in the House of Lords beginning on Tuesday.

‘Public safety’

The government said it supports privacy-oriented technology but that the the country’s security took priority.

“We have always been clear that we support technological innovation and private and secure communications technologies, including end-to-end encryption, but this cannot come at a cost to public safety,” a government spokesperson told Silicon UK.

The amendments would require any company subject to government data requests to notify officials of updates that could restrict authorities’ access to such data, including updates to users outside the UK.

Critics say this could effectively give the government the means to “veto” certain updates without the public being made aware of it.

Ensuring ‘lawful access’ to data

The government has said the changes are designed to help it “anticipate the risk to public safety posed by the rolling out of technology by multinational companies that precludes lawful access to data”.

In a fact sheet the Home Office said its intent was “not to introduce a consent or veto mechanism”, but to “give operational partners time to understand the change and adapt their investigative techniques”.

In “some circumstances” this may be “all that is required to maintain lawful access”, it said.

The changes are intended to “ensure that companies are not able to unilaterally make design changes which compromise exceptional lawful access”, the Home Office added.

‘Surveillance state’

Earlier this month Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Open Rights Group, Privacy International and other civil liberties groups filed a joint brief opposing the proposed changes, saying passing them would be “effectively transforming private companies into arms of the surveillance state and eroding the security of devices and the Internet”.

When the amendments were proposed last year Apple threatened to take messaging products such as iMessage and FaceTime off the UK market rather than comply.

The company was a vocal critic of the Investigatory Powers Act when it was being debated in 2015, warning it could force companies to install encryption backdoors and weaken user security.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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