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Investigatory Powers Bill: What it means for UK tech startups

The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill could prove damaging for innovative high-tech companies, writes Tirath Bansal, founder and CEO of internet startup myorb.com

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Myorb.com is a fledgling British startup business that is moving into a new era of web technology which embraces the internet of things (IoT), big data and artificial intelligence (AI), each with substantial export potential.

Success in these industries is based on ensuring the privacy and security of people’s information, communications and collaboration. The relationship is based on trust, which, in turn, requires safeguarding customers’ information.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, and in particular the Equipment Interference Code of Practice (EQ), will hugely disrupt privacy across every facet of our lives. It has the potential to co-opt every existing, emerging and future UK tech startup into becoming a surveillance entity for the state through vulnerable backdoors.

Once imposed by and accessible by the state, backdoors may be exploited by other nation states – or hacking groups with nefarious intentions.

Businesses may lose customer trust

Trust and safety will no longer be possible for business owners and their customers, and their employees may be required to deny the existence of state surveillance capabilities in their services and equipment, under threat of jail.

Being watched restrains our behaviour and curtails our freedom of speech. We should be innocent until proven guilty, and it is only a tiny minority from whom we are trying to protect ourselves.

The success of any service or device offered in Britain in this environment is severely compromised if this bill goes ahead. The simple response is to move overseas, as some companies have indicated they might do. For me this is not the answer.

Britain throughout its history has been a beacon of hope to the world on human rights, freedom of speech and its sense of fair play. The Investigatory Powers Bill deviates far from these principles by allowing bulk interception warrants, bulk equipment interference warrants and targeted interception warrants without the need to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security.

Proposed law is hugely intrusive

The bill affords domestic law enforcement, as well as security agencies, access to these hugely intrusive capabilities. It means the state can access your information not just from your phone or computer, but also from your smart home and smart car, and anywhere else where we will soon be using technology.

We must uphold our historic principles, while at the same time ensuring we meet and surpass our responsibilities to protect society from terrorism, exploitation of children and any other universally reviled activity. We want to achieve this without compromising the safety of our customers’ information or their human rights, and we want to operate under the rightful authority of judges and for only the appropriate and specific agencies involved.

The government has not adequately considered the consequences of the bill and the effects will be counterproductive.

Risk to technology sector

Such sweeping powers cannot be helpful when it simply means the activities we wish to protect ourselves from simply move outside our borders and control while simultaneously damaging the UK technology sector by removing its trustworthiness.

We have an opportunity to be a beacon in the world again. To create an environment that is the best home for technology anywhere in the world. Instead we choose to impose an Orwellian surveillance regime.

In these difficult times, where information and truth is more available to us than ever before, it’s time to return to the spirit of truth when we choose how to enact laws to deal with the challenges we face. We must find a better way and not be tempted into thinking forced deceit under threat of imprisonment is the only way forward.

Requests to help fight terrorism and child exploitation are not unmanageable on a case-by-case basis under the authority and control of judges. Parliament doesn’t need to compromise the rule of law nor the success of the technology industry.

I cannot be alone in this assessment. I invite any other business owners – or anyone with an ambition to start a UK tech business – who also feels concerned about these issues, to join me in an urgent dialogue with government. Email me in confidence.


Tirath Bansal is CEO and founder of myorb.com.

This was last published in March 2016

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