Tech big guns confront U.K. parliament on backdoors, encryption

Five high tech companies sent a letter to a parliamentary committee in protest of the Investigatory Powers Bill.
Five high tech companies sent a letter to a parliamentary committee in protest of the Investigatory Powers Bill.

A group of high tech corporate powerhouses has gathered together to protest a law proposed by the U.K. government that would allow an array of legal and intelligence agencies the ability to access computer data through backdoors and decryption.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo submitted a letter, dated December 21, 2015, to the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the Investigatory Powers Bill saying it would have a negative impact on both the nation's citizenry and the corporation's customers.

“We believe the best way for countries to promote the security and privacy interests of their citizens, while also respecting the sovereignty of other nations, is to ensure that surveillance is targeted, lawful, proportionate, necessary, jurisdictionally bounded, and transparent. These principles reflect the perspective of global companies that offer borderless technologies to billions of people around the globe. The actions the U.K. Government takes here could have far reaching implications – for our customers, for your own citizens, and for the future of the global technology industry,” the companies wrote.

The five companies belong to a larger group, the two-year-old Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) coalition that is fighting similar legislation in the United States. The RGS website lists Apple, AOL, Dropbox, Evernote and LinkedIn as members, but these names were not included in the U.K. letter.

The group spelled out its misgivings stating the implementation of such a policy could undermine consumer trust of their products, a fear that any legislation passed by the U.K. could be duplicated in another country and making it difficult for companies to understand what is legal and what is not.

“An increasingly chaotic international legal system will leave companies in the impossible position of deciding whose laws to violate and could fuel data localization efforts,” the companies said.

The letter also strongly rejected any use of backdoors, forced decryption or any other technological method allowing government agencies to enter their products.

“The companies believe that encryption is a fundamental security tool, important to the security of the digital economy as well as crucial to ensuring the safety of web users worldwide,” the group wrote.

RGS itself in May 2105 wrote to the U.S. Senate encouraging it to pass the USA Freedom Act. However, it has not yet, as a group, confronted American legislators on the issues of encryption and backdoors.

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