Conservative party member Amber Rudd has resigned as Home Secretary. The announcement came following the Windrush immigration scandal, during which Rudd claimed to not have set deportation targets. Yet on Sunday, The Guardian published a letter addressed to Theresa May in which Rudd did indeed set out targets to deport 10% more illegal immigrants over the “next few years”.
Fellow Conservative Sajid Javid will replace Rudd. Whilst the Home Secretary’s main focus is on immigration and citizenship, they also have remit over policing and national security, which often feature tech in some way. So, what did Rudd do for the UK’s burgeoning technology industry, and what can we expect from her successor?
The majority of Rudd’s work on tech policy, especially in 2017, was based on anti-terrorism efforts. Alongside a huge £707m pot to support law enforcement in tackling terrorism, in July 2017, Rudd spearheaded plans to change end-to-end encryption laws, amid government worries that the technology was being leveraged by terrorists to help them plot attacks. In the wake of the Manchester Attack, the government moved to enforce powers that would mean the likes of Apple and Facebook would have to hand over encrypted messages to terror investigations. Rudd had to approve each order, which would mean police and MI5 could request encryption to be removed from messages sent by suspects.
In October 2017, encryption came up again when Rudd admitted to not understanding the technology that keeps messages on Whatsapp and iMessage secure, but wanting to ban or alter it, anyway. She reportedly said: “I don’t need to understand how encryption works to understand how it’s helping […] the criminals. I will engage with the security services to find the best way to combat that”.
The government was worried that end-to-end encryption prevented them from reading terrorists’ and criminals’ messages – but experts warned that the same technology also keeps private citizens from having their messages read by criminals, and is used to secure banking technologies, among other functions.
Off the back of this, Rudd accused tech experts of “patronising” and “sneering” at politicians who try to regulate their industry. She said that Silicon Valley types should have been doing more to support authorities when it comes to counter-terrorism attempts.
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Hopefully Javid’s understanding of technology is better. There is some evidence that he will champion new tech and innovation. At The Times CEO Summit back in 2015 he reportedly said: “Berlin and Paris might want to ban Uber. We welcome disruptive technology of that type and others.
“You can either embrace it and try and work with it, or you can push it away. We benefit from promoting new technology because ultimately it’s in the interests of consumers.”
He went on to say the government would support disruptive tech because “it will lead to higher productivity”. Of course, this was three years ago, so his stance could have potentially changed.
It will be interesting to see how Javid moves forward with the anti-terrorism pledges. In October 2017, Rudd revealed a proposed change in the law which would mean that those who view terrorist content online could face up to 15 years behind bars.
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Fast forward to Februrary 2018 and the government announced they were using machine learning to identify terrorist content online. Amber Rudd claimed the AI could detect “94% of Daesh propaganda with 99.995% accuracy”. Developed by the Home Office and ASI Data Science, the tech analyses video and audio to see if it contains Daesh propaganda. According to the announcement, “if it analyses one million randomly selected videos, only 50 would require additional human review”.
Rudd said at the time: “We know that automatic technology like this can heavily disrupt the terrorists’ actions, as well as prevent people from ever being exposed to these horrific images.”
Working with tech giants
Back in November 2017, Rudd met with tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft in Washington. They agreed to work with the government to tackle extremist material online. Rudd also called on tech companies to “do more” to tackle child sexual exploitation on the internet, saying they have a “moral duty” to do something about it.
“We need to make sure [tech companies] put their technical know-how into addressing it. Particularly working with smaller platforms where children go to game online, to meet each other; there are paedophiles working there,” she had said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
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Fighting crime on the web
The number of businesses that have been hit by cyber crime has been rising lately according to some figures, and as Rudd is responsible for national security, this involves cybersecurity, too. In April 2018, she made an announcement stating that the government needs to call out cybercrime, and work with other countries to tackle it.
As part of that, the government pledged a £9m fund to crack-down on criminality on the dark web, with £5m devoted to local cyber crime units. “This will bring the UK’s total programme of support for Commonwealth partners to nearly £15 million over the next 3 years to help improve cyber security capabilities,” she said.
This was one of her last tech-related announcements as Home Secretary, so we now wait to see where her replacement will take this – and the rest of the role – moving forward. In terms of voting, Javid has always broadly followed the Tory government, so we may not see much of a shake up in terms of how he approaches tech. For instance, he voted for the Snooper Charter and for adding age restrictions to porn.
With the Windrush revelations (which he has openly shown anger toward) and Brexit (for which he supported Remain) hanging over the political landscape, Javid will likely receive a lot of scrutiny in the decisions he makes as the new Home Secretary, and only time will tell how much of an impact, if any, he has on the UK tech industry.