Access Now reprises call for rights protections in U.K. IP Bill

Yesterday Access Now submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the U.K.’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill. The bill’s broad grant of authority and the threats it poses to human rights is a consistent source of consternation for a large and diverse group of commentators.

To be clear, we believe the IP Bill needs to be thrown out in its entirety. However, our comments focus on the specific human rights at risk due to the bill’s provisions to undermine encryption and mandate data retention, and we provide targeted recommendations to limit these threats.

Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?

Limits to encryption harm our rights

When we are faced with expansive new government surveillance laws, it’s critical that we protect the integrity of the systems that safeguard our communications. Otherwise, we risk losing our ability to exercise our fundamental human rights to privacy and freedom of expression. That’s why provisions in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance — which articulate the appropriate limitations on government surveillance — specifically address the Integrity of Communications and Systems:

In order to ensure the integrity, security, and privacy of communications systems, and in recognition of the fact that compromising security for State purposes almost always compromises security more generally, States should not compel service providers or hardware or software vendors to build surveillance or monitoring capability into their systems, or to collect or retain particular information purely for State Communications Surveillance purposes. A priori data retention or collection should never be required of service providers…

The U.K. government is bound by these human rights protections through its ratification of several international treaties. Yet the IP Bill creates a process that could, and in all likelihood would, limit the use of strong encryption, which currently secures our personal communications and the most sensitive data that we store online. Dozens of organizations across sectors, including U.K. governmental offices, have continuously asked in the numerous reviews of the IP Bill for limitations on and clarifications of the power the IP Bill grants the British government regarding encryption. Access Now is reprising these repeated requests, and renewing our call for the law to include specific protection for strong encryption:

[Limitations on strong encryption] would have a direct, deleterious impact on digital security. Further, uncertainty under the law and future regulations would lead to an underdevelopment of security measures. If encryption is weakened, users will lose trust in the security of the internet and modify their behavior accordingly. These risks are aggravated by the geographic scope of technical capability notices, which can be given to a person inside or outside the UK.

Blanket data retention harms our rights

In addition, we also note that the IP Bill includes blanket data retention mandates, which violate the right to privacy and chill freedom of expression, and are therefore prohibited by human rights instruments. In fact, the Court of Justice of the European Union will soon rule on two cases that will provide further guidance on the human rights impact of data retention requirements. These rulings are likely to directly contradict the system that would be created by the IP Bill.

Government hacking harms our rights

Finally, the bill authorizes government hacking, known as “equipment interference” in U.K. parlance. We endorsed the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s specific recommendations regarding equipment interference, while calling for deeper investigation into how bulk hacking threatens human rights.

Access Now previously joined the dozens of organizations that have called for clarity and modifications on the issues in the IP Bill that would impact the integrity of the internet. Yet these issues remain and continue to threaten human rights — not only in the U.K., but globally.

What now? A refrain

Perhaps in a premonition of the IP Bill, the Beatles once sang,

I have always thought that it’s a crime

So I will ask you once again.

We’ll say it again: the IP Bill should be dropped entirely. At the bare minimum, lawmakers must revise it to better respect human rights. Access Now will keep fighting on this issue.



Image credit: Tom Blackwell