This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 29/05/2015
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Companies could leave the United Kingdom if backdoors in encryption are made mandatory
Although the Investigatory Powers Bill has not been published yet, commentators have interpreted the addressing of “capabilities gap” mentioned in the Queen's Speech last week as the announcement that Prime Minister David Cameron's idea of making backdoors mandatory into encryption software and processes.
As a result, several technology firms based in the UK have announced that they would leave the country should such a law be passed. In a blog post, the CEO of Eris Industries argued that “cryptography overwhelmingly protect legal businesses and ordinary people, not criminals and terrorists, from harm”. Last week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression published a report in support of encryption that condemned the implementation of backdoors as adversely and disproportionately affects everyone’s capacity to remain anonymous online.
International debates over the “Brexit” referendum
Prime Minister David Cameron began a tour of Europe the day after the Queen's Speech in which the announcement of a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union was made official. A small victory for the Prime Minister was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's suggestion that the Lisbon Treaty could be revised to accommodate the UK demands. Such a revision could be necessary if the British government sticks to its demands on the restriction of access to benefits for EU migrants. However, treaty changes can take a long time, while David Cameron and other European partners would prefer having a referendum in 2016. The point on access to benefits was also unfavourably received by the Polish Prime Minister who sees it as discrimination against his people.
This week, a senior German member of parliament asserted that the UK should lose its veto on the matter of the European Union from which it opts out (if it does so), in order not to pull back countries willing to integrate forward.
Nicola Sturgeon declared that “exit from the European Union would only be possible if all UK nations agreed”, and warned against a possible new vote for independence in Scotland if the UK leaves the European Union.
The United States Senate votes for the Freedom Act
On Tuesday, June 2nd, the Senate voted the Freedom Act, which replaces some parts of the Patriot Act, including the infamous Section 215 which was at the core of the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden two years ago. The bulk collection of phone record will no longer be operated by the National Security Agency, which will have to require such records from telecom companies, with the explicit authorization of a judge.
The debate was so fierce in the Senate that the vote came two days after the provision of the Patriot Act stopped having effect. However, while this fuelled a rhetoric of urgency, it had very little effect, since the collection of data was still legal for any investigations opened before June, 1st.
Even fierce critics of Snowden have admitted the importance of his revelations in this vote. The disclosure of NSA and its allies action has spanned over the last two years, and have, for instance, allowed judges to declare NSA actions illegal. The whistleblower saluted the vote but warned that the problem of surveillance is far from being tackled with yet.
Doing a presentation in London this week, a GHCQ official didn't make any comment on the vote, despite the huge involvement of the agency in the mass surveillance disclosed.
Wikileaks puts new secret trade agreement under the spotlight and offers high reward for leak of TTIP
The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) first came to light in April 2014, but a more recent and exhaustive leak of some of its parts has just been released by Wikileaks. The treaty is currently being negotiated by the European Union, the United States and 23 others countries, although, notably, no member of the rising economic powers known as the “BRICS”. One of the treaty's annexe deals with e-commerce, and it is already starting to concern digital rights organisations. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues the treaty would “impact privacy online, and net neutrality”. Indeed, the annexe reveals that countries could not make free software mandatory, and that “"no Party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, [accessing, processing or storing] information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory”. This means that a country could not require companies from another country to store personal data of its citizens in its national territory.
This particular point goes in the opposite direction of a trend in which, following the revelations on mass surveillance, countries want to keep sensitive data in their national territories (or at least in the European territory, for countries belonging to the European Union).
Wikileaks also made the headline this week by proposing a 100.000 $ reward for anyone leaking the twenty five still undisclosed chapters of the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is the first time Wikileaks has offered a reward for a leak. This reward is crowdfunded and has reached half of its goal in three days. As yet, only three chapters of TTIP have been leaked has of yet, and the content of the treaty remains secret to a large extent, but it is believed to contain an extension of United States' copyright laws to its signatories as well as several repressive measures against piracy.
Apple CEO attacks Silicon Valley giants over privacy
In an “EPIC Champions of Freedom” event in Washington on Tuesday, June 2nd, Tim Cook delivered harsh criticism of technology companies working on business-models with selling users' data at their core. Though he didn't mention Google or Facebook, the attack appeared to be directed at them, as the CEO of Apple made the point that customers “might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for God-knows-what advertising purpose”. Though Apple has not always been exemplary privacy-wise, Cook insisted on the difference between Apple and companies that force users to “to make trade-offs between privacy and security”.
This speech came only two days after the “Marauder's Map” scandal that touched Facebook. An extension to the web browser Chrome allowed users of Facebook to closely monitor their “friends” movement on Google Maps, with a very high degree of precision (up to the exact address), if those friends used Facebook Messenger and didn't manually deactivate location tracking. The creator of the application explained he created it to make “tangible” how internet users are losing their privacy. The creator now deactivated the extension, at Facebook's demand. The company said it is working on this issue.
European Parliament's position on TTIP might not be reached because of controversial ISDS clause
Last week, the International Trade committee of the European Parliament adopted a position over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is to be voted in a plenary session this week. However, the agreement that was reached by the Social Democrats (S&D) and the European People Party on the controversial ISDS clause has been breached after the S&D meeting of June 3rd, in which the group backed down from the deal and reasserted its initial stance. This Investor State Dispute Settlement clause would allow for the the creation of ad hoc international tribunal judging disputes in which a companies feel that its investments has been compromise by a country's policy. S&D Trade Committee chair Bernd Lange said it is “the beginning of the end for ISDS”.
Perhaps the solution will come from France's Minister for Foreign Trade, Matthias Fekl, who proposed the creation of an European court to settle trade disputes. In his view, this would allow to settle international disputes while keeping high “ethics and transparency standards”.
ORG Media coverage
See ORG Press Coverage for full details.
- 2015-06-02 – Financial Times - Tech sector figures warn from hit from planned UK data law
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on the effect of the “Snoopers' Charter on businesses
- 2015-06-02 – The Guardian - Secret report urges treaty forcing US web firms' cooperation in data sharing
- Author: Alan Travis
- Summary: Jim Killock argues for the report on investigatory powers to be published
- 2015-06-02 – The National - Escaping the May-trix. Snoopers’ Charter will force a mass exodus of tech firms from the UK
- Author: Andrew Learmonth
- Summary: Ed Paton-Williams quoted on the effect of the “Snoopers' Charter on businesses