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UK may demand tech world tell it about upcoming security features

The UK government has set in train plans to introduce legislation requiring tech companies to let it know when they plan to introduce new security technologies and could potentially force them to disable when required.

The measures were announced just minutes ago in the King’s Speech – when the country’s monarch reads out a speech that is written by the ruling political party, marking the start of the parliamentary year. They could mean the Home Office get advance access to technical details of security measures employed by popular big tech platforms so it can access user data and monitor nefarious activity.

In guidance notes to the legislative programme, the government said the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill would reform the “notices regime,” so it could anticipate the risk to public safety posed by the “rolling out of technology by multinational companies that precludes lawful access to data.” The government claimed getting forward notice of security technologies would “reduce the risk of the most serious offences such as child sexual exploitation and abuse or terrorism.”

The Bill is also set to update the conditions for use of Internet Connections Records held by service providers. The government said new measures would “ensure that these can be used effectively to detect the most serious types of criminal activity and national security threats, underpinned by a robust independent oversight regime.”

Additionally, the government said it wants to increase the resilience of the warrant authorization processes to “ensure the security and intelligence agencies, as well as the National Crime Agency, can always get lawful access to information in a timely way.”

The Open Rights Group, a digital rights campaign organization, said the proposed laws — which are yet to be debated and voted on in Parliament — could mean that global tech companies are forced to get permission from the UK government if they want to make changes to security features in their products and services, in effect becoming a further attack on end-to-end encryption, which keeps communications and transactions safe.

Abigail Burke, platform power programme manager, said: “End-to-end encryption keeps our data and our communications safe and secure. The proposed reforms to the Investigatory Powers Act are the government’s latest attack on this technology.

“If enacted, these reforms pose a threat to companies’ ability to keep our data safe and increase the risk of criminal attacks. We urge the government to engage with civil society and tech companies, and to reconsider these potentially dangerous proposals,” she said.

The amendments to the controversial Investigatory Powers Act follow the passing of the Online Safety Bill into law. The new rules give the government powers to introduce online child protection laws, one that includes clause 122, the infamous “spy clause,” albeit with some caveats, despite the protests from tech companies and privacy campaigners. ®