UK Investigatory Powers Bill Nears Legality Despite Opposition from Apple and Others

The UK has just taken a step toward legalizing a controversial bill giving spy agencies the power to “engage in bulk surveillance and computer hacking”, reports Bloomberg. The bill was opposed by Apple and various technology companies, but the UK’s House of Commons this week passed the bill by a margin of 444 to 69.

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The original bill, introduced by the Conservative government, underwent some modifications to address concerns from privacy advocates and tech companies, but the alterations don’t change the fact that UK spy agencies get explicit authority to use any of the surveillance techniques already in use, such as scooping up the metadata of communications and using malware to hack targeted computers or the mobile phones of terrorist suspects.

When the bill was originally introduced, even Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized it, saying that it wold have “dire consequences” if it passed.

The version of the bill passed Tuesday makes clear that companies aren’t required to build backdoors to their encryption and will only be required to remove such code in response to a government request if doing so is technically feasible and not unduly expensive.
The bill also makes clear that the government will likely reimburse communications companies, including mobile operators, for the cost of complying with the new legal obligations, such as the requirement to retain records of all the websites its customers visit for at least a year.

Now that the bill has been passed by the House of Commons, it is the turn of House of Lords to consider the proposed law known as the Investigatory Powers Bill.