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Impact of Investigatory Powers Bill is unclear, say most Britons

Open-Xchange privacy survey shows many Britons are unsure and concerned by controversial bill on the eve of of it moving a step closer to becoming law

Only one in 10 UK citizens believe home secretary Theresa May has done enough to explain the full impact of the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, a survey has revealed.

Only one in five believe the introduction of the bill is justified, and just over a quarter believe the government has the right to pass legislation to access their mobile and internet data, according to the 2016 Consumer Openness Index survey by open-source software provider Open-Xchange.

Publication of the survey comes a day before the bill is scheduled for a second reading in the House of Commons, taking it another step closer to becoming law.

Half of the internet users polled in the UK believe prime minister David Cameron and the government’s  actions to weaken encryption are an infringement of UK citizens’ rights, with 74% saying they believe in the fundamental right to privacy online.

The survey shows that the UK public believes weak encryption is bad for business, with only one in 10 thinking that weakened encryption will not make investment in the UK less attractive, 40% saying reputational damage caused by the Investigatory Powers Bill will be bad for UK businesses,  and nearly half believing that weakened encryption will force some UK businesses to move aboard.

Three in five of the survey respondents think making personal data easier for government officials to access will also make it easier for criminals to access that data, and only 43% agree that weakening encryption protections will help law enforcement catch cyber criminals and protect the country.

Rafael Laguna, chief executive of Open-Xchange, said that although most of the survey results were as expected, it was surprising how much the issues around encryption and the Investigatory Powers Bill seem to have raised awareness about data privacy issues since the last survey a year ago.

However, he said the survey shows that while there is a strong sense that people are aware their privacy is being encroached upon, confidence in their own ability to keep their data private is down and many do not seem to know what action to take or where to turn.

Only 22% of UK respondents said they were “extremely good” at keeping their personal data private when they are online, only 12% use encrypted email, and only 23% enable two-factor authentication on websites.

Only 5% of UK respondents said they use encryption for online communication “all the time”, compared with 11% in the US and 14% in Germany, while 31% said they never use encryption and 36% said they do not know whether the communication services they use are encrypted or not.

“The use of encryption is more or less around the same level as a year ago, with many (31%) finding encryption too complicated or not seeing any need to use it, which is surprising considering the heightened awareness around privacy,” Laguna told Computer Weekly.

While 54% said it was unlikely they would use encryption for email, messaging, voice chat or any other form of online communication in the future, 52% said they would be more likely to use it if there was an easy way to make something encrypted at the click of a button, and 52% said they would be more likely to use encryption if it was a standard part of applications.

Laguna said he hopes the increased awareness around privacy leads to better services that make it easier for people to protect their data and are not aimed at exploiting user data.

“Technology providers need to make it easier for users to keep data private by making encryption simple to do or putting it at the core of their products so it is automatic and users don’t have to even think about encryption,” he said.

Laguna said there should be a better balance between the need for privacy and the technical ability to achieve it. 

He believes 2016 will be a turning point for how the world will define these issues for years to come, with the replacement of the Safe Harbour agreement, the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Bill, and the debate between Apple and the US government about unlocking iPhones.

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