‘Tis the season for friends, family, and apparently, government surveillance. With an increasing number of governments instituting new digital antiterrorism laws, officials are finding some pretty creative new ways of justifying their existence. And chief among them is the the government of the United Kingdom, which claims that its Investigatory Powers Bill will not only help stymie terrorist activity, but will also help combat trolls and cyberbullies. After all, since the U.K. already has insurance against online bullying, why not implement a law to combat the practice as well?
The interesting new line of defense for the bill comes in the wake of considerable criticism. And given that one of the main critics is Apple, which has largely remained silent on the issue of surveillance and such measures (even in the wake of China’s passage of a new antiterrorism law), the U.K. has certainly found it necessary to craft a response. In an unusual move for Apple, the tech giant said in a public statement that the new law might render “personal data of millions of law abiding citizens […] less secure.”
“We believe there is a need for much greater clarity as to how the powers in the bill will be applied,” Apple’s statement reads. “Not least because, once again, the [powers] could endanger the privacy and security of users in the U.K. and elsewhere.”
But British Home Secretary Theresa May disagrees, noting that the legislation “will help police and spooks to track down and identify anonymous cyberbullies,” which is admittedly a growing problem in the 21st century. Calling cyberbullying a “pernicious” problem, May wrote in a letter obtained by The Times, “Internet connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication, for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying.”
James Cartlidge, a member of Parliament, added, “We’re all becoming much more aware that the internet has a dark side. But it’s not just about terrorism or hacking into bank accounts.” Referring to cyberbullying and online trolling, he continued, “There are these nasty, psychological attacks that particularly affect young people.”
Of course, invoking the safety and wellbeing of children is always a savvy political move, but critics (including Apple CEO Tim Cook) note that the bill, if passed, will grant the British government alarming powers and greatly weaken encryption.
We’ll have to wait until February to see how this one turns out.