Apple in Store for a Showdown in 2017 as the U.K.'s Investigatory Powers Bill becomes Law in the coming Weeks
This week the House of Lords passed the Investigatory Powers Bill, putting huge spying powers on their way to becoming law within weeks. The bill – which forces internet companies to keep records on their users for up to a year, and allows the Government to force companies to hack into or break things they've sold so they can be spied on – has been fought against by privacy campaigners and technology companies including Apple and Twitter.
But the Government has worked to continue to pass the bill, despite objections from Apple and other tech companies that the legislation is not possible to enforce and would make customers unsafe. The House of Lords's agreement to the text now means that it just awaits Royal Assent, at which point it will become law.
To be clear, the new law forces internet companies to keep a full browsing history of all of their users and give it up to a huge range of government agencies if they are asked. It also gives spies unprecedented powers to read people's messages, as well as forcing technology companies like Apple to hack into their own phones if they are asked.
A follow up report by the UK's Independent stated that "The Investigatory Powers Bill was just passed through the House of Lords and so is now just weeks away from becoming law. But signatories to a new petition hope that process can be stopped, forcing lawmakers to keep the new powers from being published.
At the time of publication, the petition fighting this legislation that is likely to become law in the next few weeks has been signed by 45,000 people. They require 100,000 signatures for parliament to consider debating it once again."
Yet if the likes of Apple and other heavy weights couldn't stop the bill, then trying to force another debate via a petition may delay the bill a day but is unlikely to yield a victory in stopping it.
In February Apple's CEO Tim Cook told ABC's 'World News Tonight' anchor David Muir that what the U.S. government was asking of the tech giant -- to essentially create software enabling the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters -- amounted to the 'software equivalent of cancer.'"
Later in that interview, Muir asked Cook, "And if Congress decided that there's this small category, this was a terrorist's iPhone, if Congress decided that, the American people signed off on that, you'd entertain it? Cook: "Let me clear. At the end of the day, we have to follow the law. Just like everybody else. So we have to follow the law."
Cook's words will now be used against him when the UK's new law is given its final approval. Governments around the world will be watching this closely because of the hard stance that Apple has taken on this issue. Apple even rehired Jon Callas to strengthen their iOS operating system encryption. Will Apple's CEO now "follow the law" if called upon to do so or will he say that his answer only applied to U.S. law?
At the moment it appears that while the U.K. will be first to test the law and force Apple to comply by unlocking iPhones, this trend of governments forcing the issue with tech companies and Apple is likely to continue next June when a new securiy based law by the Chinese goes into effect. Patently Apple covered this in a report titled "Chinese Cyber Security Law goes into Effect in June 2017 that may Require Apple to surrender iOS Source Code." We followed up with a secondary report days later titled "China Warns Tech Companies at World Internet Conference in China that "Nothing outweighs National Security"
Other governments such as Germany and France are sounding security bells as well. We covered one such story back in October titlled "Tech Companies like Apple are unlikely to Assist Europe's Call for Decryption Tools in War on Islamic Terrorism, for now."
In the end, Apple's determination to fight governments around the world from enforcing them to unlock iPhones could come to a grinding halt and reversal when the UK's security bill becomes law before the end of the year. And if the U.K. forces this issue with Apple, then China is likely to be next when their laws go into Action by June 2017. At that point, the house of cards on this issue is bound to collapse.
Will Apple "abide by the law" as Cook once stated or will he reverse his statement and go to war costing the company tens of millions if not more to fight a war they can't win. There's no doubt that that die-hard Apple and tech loyalists in general will call on Apple to go down in flames fighting the good fight for privacy. So the question becomes – will Apple's CEO be a pragmatist on this issue or will he try to play the hero card? I'm hoping for the former while most, I'm sure, will be hoping for the latter.
Where do you stand?
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