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Investigatory Powers Bill ‘puts UK tech sector at risk’

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The Science and Technology Committee has warned that the Investigatory Powers Bill risks undermining the UK’s tech sector.

If passed, the Bill — a draft was published in November last year — would require internet service providers to keep a record of all the websites visited by UK citizens for 12 months so that they could be accessed by government bodies.

Uncertainty about the costs associated with complying with the proposed legislation would, according to the Committee, hinder the UK’s performance in the technology field.

Getting the balance

The Committee said in its third report of Session 2015-2016 into the Bill that its inquiry had focused on technological aspects.

In so doing, the Committee sought to pin-point the main technological issues involved and assess the extent to which these would affect businesses expected to collect data and cooperate with the relevant security authorities.

Nicola Blackwood MP, chair of the Science & Technology Committee, said: “It is vital we get the balance right between protecting our security and the health of our economy. We need our security services to be able to do their job and prevent terrorism, but as legislators we need to be careful not to inadvertently disadvantage the UK’s rapidly growing Tech sector.”

“The current lack of clarity within the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is causing concern amongst businesses. There are widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft Bill. The Government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate,” she continued.

In terms of encryption, the Committee said that law enforcement services should, in some instances, be able to request unencrypted data from communication service providers.

“However, there is confusion about how the draft Bill would affect end-to-end encrypted communications, where decryption might not be possible by a communications provider that had not added the original encryption,” it adds.

The Government should therefore clarify and clearly state in the Codes of Practice, due to be published alongside the Bill, that it will not be seeking unencrypted content in such cases, in line with the way existing legislation is currently applied.

Blackwood MP added: “Encryption is important in providing the secure services on the internet we all rely on, from credit card transactions and commerce to legal or medical communications. It is essential that the integrity and security of legitimate online transactions is maintained if we are to trust in, and benefit from, the opportunities of an increasingly digital economy. The Government needs to do more to allay unfounded concerns that encryption will no longer be possible.”

Recommendations

The Committee also said that there were also concerns about whether ‘equipment interference’ could jeopardise some businesses models.

Recommendations from the Committee included advice that the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner should report to the public on the extent to which such measures are used and carefully monitor public reaction to this power.

Blackwood MP, commented: “So called ‘equipment interference’ may occasionally be necessary for law enforcement agencies to do their job effectively, but the Tech industry has legitimate concerns about the reaction of their customers to the possibility that electronic devices could be hacked by the security services. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner could have a role in informing the public about the extent, or the lack of it, of the actual use of equipment interference.”

In its report, the Committee also called out for greater reassurance that businesses would not be subject to disproportionate additional burdens without any recompense.

Blackwood MP concluded:The evidence we heard suggests there are still many unanswered questions about how this legislation will work in the fast evolving world of communications technology. There are good grounds to believe that without further refinement, there could be many unintended consequences for commerce arising from the current lack of clarity of the terms and scope of the legislation. The final version of the Bill will have to address this if it is provide future-proofed legislation.”

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