Apple has called for changes to the UK government’s investigatory powers bill, over fears it would weaken the security of “personal data of millions of law-abiding citizens”.
In a submission to the bill committee, released on Monday, the Californian technology firm expressed major concerns and called for wholesale changes before the bill is passed.
“We believe it would be wrong to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat,” Apple said. “In this rapidly evolving cyber-threat environment, companies should remain free to implement strong encryption to protect customers”
The investigatory powers bill was presented to the House of Commons by the home secretary, Theresa May, in November and is currently at the committee stage.
Apple highlighted the main areas of the bill that it wants to see changed. It told the committee that passages in the bill could give the government the power to demand Apple alters the way its messaging service, iMessage, works. The company said this would weaken encryption and enable the security services to eavesdrop on iMessage for the first time.
The government argues that the proposed legislation does no more than incorporate previous powers granted under Ripa, an earlier piece of legislation. However, technology firms fear that key differences in the language used in the legislation widen the scope of the powers considerably when compared to Ripa, which only affected traditional internet service providers.
In its submission, Apple said: “The creation of backdoors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers. A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.”
Apple also expressed concern over another section of the draft bill, which gives the security services the authority to hack into computers worldwide – enshrining in statute for the first time the government’s licence to do so. It contains provisions that require communications firms to provide aid to the security services when they need help to hack into devices, something that Apple is concerned could be read as requiring the company to help hack into its own devices.
“It would place businesses like Apple – whose relationship with customers is in part built on a sense of trust about how data will be handled – in a very difficult position,” Apple says.
“For the consumer in, say, Germany, this might represent hacking of their data by an Irish business on behalf of the UK state under a bulk warrant – activity which the provider is not even allowed to confirm or deny. Maintaining trust in such circumstances will be extremely difficult.”
Apple said it was worried about the scope of the bill as many of the provisions in the bill apply to companies regardless of where they are based, giving the bill international scope, despite being a purely domestic piece of legislation. It also runs the risk of placing companies in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t position
The company said: “Those businesses affected will have to cope with a set of overlapping foreign and domestic laws. When these laws inevitably conflict, the businesses will be left having to arbitrate between them, knowing that in doing so they might risk sanctions. That is an unreasonable position to be placed in.”
Others have expressed concern about the precedent such legislation would set – particularly if other countries with worse human rights records than the UK tried to enact similar legislation.
It isn’t the first time Apple has spoken out against the IP bill. The week after it was released, the company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, told the Daily Telegraph that the law could have “very dire consequences”.
He said: “We believe very strongly in end-to-end encryption and no back doors. We don’t think people want us to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails.
“Any back door is a back door for everyone,” he added. “Everybody wants to crack down on terrorists. Everybody wants to be secure. The question is how. Opening a back door can have very dire consequences.”
Other technology firms have also opposed the bill. In November, the bill committee was told by internet service providers that another aspect of the bill, which requires them to store browsing data for a year, presented a security hazard to the public and could cause broadband bills to rise.
Matthew Hare, the chief executive of ISP Gigaclear, said: “On a typical 1 gigabit connection we see over 15TB of data per year passing over that connection … If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data, it’s going to be the most massive amount of data that you’d be expected to keep in the future.
“The indiscriminate collection of mass data is going to have a massive cost.”
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