UK Commons passes Investigatory Powers Bill, no backdoor clause

Apple may have scored somewhat of a victory in the name of security and privacy in the UK just as it somewhat did in the US just recently. December last year, Apple voiced out its concerns over the UK's proposed Investigatory Powers Bill that would require companies to have backdoors to encrypted systems so that government access could be granted any time. That bill has now been passed by the UK's House of Commons but removes the sections that make such backdoors necessary, thanks partly to the opposition of companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and many others.

You don't hear about it as much these days, especially after the legal tussle between Apple and the FBI over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone has practically died down. However, governments and tech companies are still pretty much in a tug of war over encryption technologies, each with their own sometimes reasonable arguments. Governments naturally want to be able to access information in course of investigations but tech companies need to assure their customers that they can keep their data private, even from the government.

While the issue is still under debate in the US, the UK almost took solid steps in favor of the government. The original text of the Investigatory Powers Bill would have forced companies, even from other countries as long as they operate within the UK, to install encryption backdoors, a practice that many in the tech industry and privacy advocacy groups have condemned as practically giving criminals easy access to encrypted devices and systems.

The modified text that passed the House of Commons no longer has such strong words. However, it still leaves the door open for the government to require companies to remove the encryption but only if it's technically and financially feasible for the company. This clause was most likely inspired by Apple's arguments against the FBI in the San Bernardino case. Also, the government could reimburse communications companies who have complained that the new law would incur them additional expenses.

It's not a closed and shut case, however. The bill now has to pass the UK House of Lords, where it will be getting yet another extensive review and round of arguments. Despite the modified wording, the bill has not allayed the concerns of many privacy groups. Should the bill pass, it will take effect January next year.

SOURCE: Bloomberg