Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Apple accuses UK government of trying to become ‘global arbiter’ of encryption

Apple has accused the British government of attempting to become “the de facto global arbiter of what level of data security and encryption are permissible” in response to new legal proposals.

The iPhone maker warned that if the proposals became law it could be forced to publicly withdraw security features from the United Kingdom and potentially completely turn off services such as FaceTime and iMessage in the country.

The company was responding to a consultation on amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act, which was passed in 2016 in the wake of the Snowden scandal to reform the legal regime used by intelligence services and law enforcement agencies to access communications data.

In an update to this legislation, the Home Office is seeking to overhaul a range of protections originally baked into the legislation that would strengthen its ability to force technology companies into amending their services so that communications data can be accessed.

The proposed changes are independent of the country’s Online Safety Bill, which is still being debated in Parliament. Apple — alongside civil society groups and other technology companies — has also criticized this bill as risking “the privacy of billions of people around the world” by undermining end-to-end encryption.

According to Apple, the Home Office’s plans to update the Investigatory Powers Act would allow the government to require the company to notify it over any security updates that could have a “negative impact on investigatory powers.”

The law currently allows the government to issue a secret notice prohibiting Apple from implementing such an update, something which Apple has the right to appeal. However, under a new amendment, Apple would be forced to comply with the instruction even while its appeal was being reviewed.

The company said: “Together, these provisions could be used to force a company like Apple, that would never build a backdoor, to publicly withdraw critical security features from the UK market, depriving UK users of these protections.”

The amended law would “result in an impossible choice between complying with a Home Office mandate to secretly install vulnerabilities into new security technologies (which Apple would never do), or to forgo development of those technologies altogether and sit on the sidelines as threats to users’ data security continue to grow,” the company said.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.