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Tech City is Five: Will Investigatory Powers Bill kill UK tech?

Home Secretary Teresa May has today outlined the draft Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Commons, long labelled the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ by internet rights campaigners.

Among other areas, the Bill includes provisions for both web and phone companies to store all website visits made by UK citizens for 12 months so they may be accessed by relevant government bodies, enables “bulk collection” of data by security services and makes explicit the right of the police to force companies to help them bypass encryption in order to bug citizens’ communications.

May said that the Bill is a “significant departure” from previous plans but, speaking exclusively to Tech City News, several in the tech community have, not surprisingly, come out against the proposed measures.

“With the introduction of the Tech City initiative five years ago today and the government an active supporter of the rapid growth of the digital economy, the introduction of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill to Parliament today represents somewhat of a dichotomy,” says Jonathan Parker-Bray, founder and CEO of Criptyque, which launched the network agnostic encryption app Pryvate last week.

“While we would agree strongly that there does need to be an updating and an expansion of legislation to account for the digital age, this should not override the hard-fought right to privacy that is owned by every citizen in the UK and hamper the essential security requirements for businesses to thrive.”

Consumer trust

“The Investigatory Powers Bill reflects a lack of joined up thinking,” agrees Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy Profusion. “On one hand the government wants everything that a vibrant and entrepreneurial economy can deliver – both within Tech City and across the country as a whole – meanwhile, another part of the same government wants to give the security services access to high quality intel as they seek to make the world a safer place.

“At first glance, those two ideas may not appear to be in conflict. However, for the tech economy to thrive and become world-beating, we need a digital economy that is thriving.

“That, in turn, is heavily reliant on consumer trust. Undermining the fundamental human right to privacy by leaving everything we do online open to inspection, seemingly at the security services’ whim, as this Bill appears to do, compromises that trust.”

Business flight

“The potential impact on businesses is hard to gauge but the threat of companies in the technology sector moving their headquarters to a new country is a real concern and the potentially inadequate protection for online services is valid,” Parker-Bray warns.

“Many refuse to speculate on the whether it will have any impact on the economy but what is certain is that threat actors will always find nefarious ways of using good intentioned technology for their own means and this law is a potential license for the invasion of the right to privacy on a scale this country cannot allow.”

Given wider legislative decisions made in recent months, Weston concludes: “If you add to this the EU’s vote last week that missed the chance to protect net neutrality and the US Senate vote to pass the CISA legislation, there’s a real risk that the decisions of this month will do significant damage to UK and European access to an open internet – taking growth prospects for Tech City down with it.”